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Reducing the Financial and Environmental Burden of Methane Leaks

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Adam Brandt and Rob Jackson
Adam Brandt (left) is an associate professor of energy resources engineering. Rob Jackson (right) is an Earth system scientist who holds the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professorship. Photo by Stacy Geiken

Reducing the Financial and Environmental Burden of Methane Leaks

April 30, 2019

Professors Adam Brandt and Rob Jackson see a way for energy companies and consumers to save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Their research focuses on methane, a major component of natural gas with more than 30 times the potency of carbon dioxide as a contributor to climate change. Methane leaks resulting from the production, storage, and distribution of natural gas are costly, and they can undermine the benefits of using natural gas as an alternative to more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal. 

In a project facilitated by the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative, Jackson and Brandt are developing new imaging techniques and laser-based tools that can be installed on manned vehicles or drones to more routinely monitor natural gas wells and storage tanks. Their research shows that these automated monitoring systems can cover far more territory than traditional monitoring methods—and at less cost. Uncovering and repairing the largest leaks could reduce fugitive emissions by 80%. 

In other applications, their technology has been used to identify risks from aging urban pipelines and to measure the methane leak from the natural gas storage field near Porter Ranch, California, in 2015.