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Using Satellite Imagery To Detect, Pinpoint & Monitor Unlit Flares in Natural Gas Production

Methane emissions from unlit flare
Unlit flare at a natural gas facility in the Kokdumalak gas field in the Qashqadaryo Province of Uzbekistan.

On October 29, 2020 an unlit flare at a natural gas transmission facility in the Kokdumalak gas field in the Qashqadaryo Province of Uzbekistan emitted 3,533 kilograms of methane per hour with a plume size of 114,100 m2. Like an unknown number of similar events occurring daily across the globe in oil and gas operations, the unlit flare likely went undetected by the facility operator. Using multi-satellite imagery, Momentick’s algorithms autonomously identified the flare and accurately measured the event’s emissions rate. Our multi-satellite approach also enabled us to monitor the site over time, confirming that this was the only unlit flare event at the facility in the months before and after the detected unlit flare.

The Kokdumalak unlit flare demonstrates the success of using multi-satellite imagery to accurately detect and measure one-time, spontaneous and accidental emission events.


Using Satellite Imagery to Detect & Monitor Methane Emissions Over Time

Momentick uses multi-satellite imagery sources to produce historical data for any site to determine when emission events began and/or ended. We compared images of Kokdumalak from the days, weeks and months prior and after 29/10/2020 to ascertain whether this was truly a one-time event or a recurring malfunction at the facility. Our use of historical data, enabled us to confirm that this was one a one-time unlit flare even that had not occurred in the months prior or after.


Methane Emissions in Natural Gas Operations: Flaring & Unlit Flares Methane emissions in the energy sector result from widespread leaks, flaring and venting during the production, processing and transportation of natural gas. Natural gas is predominantly composed of methane which is approximately 28-34 times more potent over 20 years than CO2 and makes up 20% of global GHG emissions. During the production and transportation of natural gas, numerous components are used which are prone to leaks, e.g., compressors, valves, pumps, gauges and pipe connectors. Flaring and venting occur when field operators burn (i.e., flare) or simply release (i.e., vent) the "associated" gas accompanying natural gas production. While routine flaring is generally less harmful than venting, it results in the release of substantial volumes of potent GHGs, including high levels of methane, black soot and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Around 140 bcm of natural gas is flared globally each year, playing a major role in an estimated 90B USD annual revenue loss for the global energy sector.

"Our findings indicate that flaring is responsible for five times more methane entering the atmosphere than we previously thought," says Genevieve Plant, lead author in recent study of unlit natural gas flares and assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan.

Not all flares are the same, however, with some failing to ignite. An unlit flare is a one-time, spontaneous event that results in methane being vented into the atmosphere. Most of these events are the result of a system malfunction at a production or transmission facility and go by undetected, resulting in dangerous and costly amounts of methane being released. Unlit flares and inefficient combustion have been shown to result in ineffective methane destruction, destroying only 91.1%. In the U.S., this represents a staggering five-fold increase (0.49 T) of methane released in unlit flare events compared to official calculations, which assume only 2% (0.1 Tg) is emitted with 98% being destroyed. Detecting Flares: Using Satellite Imagery to Make the Unseen Seen

Flaring represents 8-11% of total global energy sector methane emissions making these events crucial to reducing easily preventable methane emissions. However, accurately detecting and monitoring unlit flares is problematic for natural gas producers and operators for several reasons.

  • These are unintended, accidental events.

  • They can be one-time events that do not repeat themselves.

  • Once they've occurred, the environmental and public health "damage" has already been done.

  • They often occur in remote locations.

Costly ground sensors and on-site personnel can be used to detect the event but they fail to accurately measure the size of the event with an accurate emission rate. They also fail to connect the dots and monitor numerous assets and facilities over time and over large geographic areas to shape unlit flare prevention systems and strategies. They also don't verify the flaring performance of a specific facility over time (important for emissions regulatory compliance). Multi-satellite methane monitoring overcomes all of these challenges and provides the essential data needed to detect and prevent unlit flaring on a global scale.

With the exponentially growing proliferation of satellites in orbit, continuously imaging every square meter of the planet, remote sensing based on multi-satellite imagery provides a near-real time solution for unlit flares at facilities in any location — from Kokdumalak to east Texas. Momentick's Solution Momentick's technology harnesses multi satellite imagery and AI to continuously monitor both large geographic areas and specific facilities, enabling us to accurately detect and measure unlit flares which would otherwise go by undetected. We deliver the data as a software solution that is wholly independent of specific satellites, hardware and human personnel. As with the Kokdumalak flare, once a spontaneous emissions event or malfunction is identified in satellite imagery, our technology compares images of the site where the unlit flare occurred to images of the same site before and after the event. This provides essential historical context. It answers the crucial question: has this happened before and how often does it occur? For example, in the case of the Kokdumalak unlit flare, Momentick confirmed that the unlit flare was a one-time event that hadn’t occurred in the 6 months prior or after.

The Kokdumalak Test

To provide real methane detection and monitoring solutions to the challenges facing the energy sector and regulatory bodies, any technology must pass the Kokdumalak test.

Methane emissions detection report
Momentick Emissions Report

The Kokdumalak Test:

  • Autonomous detection of spontaneous emissions events.

  • Accurate measurement of emission rate in small and medium-sized events.

  • Accurate mapping of plume size and wind direction.

  • Comparison to historical data to track the event over time.

  • Easily downloaded and exported report of the event to share with stakeholders and/or regulatory bodies.

Technologies unable to accurately detect and measure spontaneous or one-time emissions events (which release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere resulting in significant regulatory, environmental and public health consequences) don't pass the Kokdumalak test and fail to provide the essential data needed.

Momentick’s autonomous detection and quantification of the Kokdumalak unlit flare and our historical monitoring of the site over time demonstrates that multi-satellite remote sensing combined with highly advanced GHG detection algorithms not only works for flaring and other spontaneous, one-time emissions events, it’s the most effective solution for the energy sector and regulatory bodies.



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