Shale Gas

Extensive shale gas development in recent years is suspected of significantly increasing methane emissions in the vicinity of shale plays. GHGSat is actively monitoring several shale gas basins in cooperation with major operators. For more details, please contact us at [email protected].


Natural gas production from shale formations (“shale gas”, often produced by hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking”) grew rapidly in recent years. Popular reporting of shale gas development has generally focused on North America, but reserves outside North America represents more than 75% of global reserves [1].

Shale gas offers a globally significant opportunity as a source of energy, where environmental risks of development are addressed responsibly. Methane emissions represent one of the more significant environmental risks of shale gas development.

Methane venting and leaking occurs across the lifecyle of a shale gas well, and at many points in the value chain from well to market. According to the US EIA, there were > 500,000 producing gas wells in the United States alone in 2016 [2].

The situation might seem hopelessly complex, except that emissions have been extensively studied and there is a growing consensus among those studies that a small number of wells are responsible for the majority of methane emissions. One such study [3] concludes that just a few natural gas wells account for more than half of the total volume of leaked methane gas in the United States. Fixing leaks at those top emitters, often referred to as “superemitters”, could significantly reduce the total leaked volume of methane.

Superemitter leaks are important for operators for environmental reasons, but also because they often represent significant health & safety risks and loss of marketable product.

National and sub-national regulators have become increasingly interested in monitoring methane emissions from shale gas production. However, existing methods generally require crews to visit each facility, using expensive equipment that operates effectively only in limited weather conditions.

Shale gas operators are therefore increasingly interested in new technologies for monitoring methane emissions from shale gas operations, cost-effectively.

Sample Image

Permian Basin Methane Plume
GHGSat is committed to making more sample data available for evaluation by qualified parties. The latest sample was observed in August 2018 by GHGSat’s demonstration satellite, Claire, over two years after launch in June 2016. GHGSat detected emissions of methane, an important greenhouse gas, from an oil & gas facility in the Permian Basin. Claire captures an array of over 200,000 atmospheric measurements around an industrial facility in a few seconds. These measurements are processed to produce imagery showing a “heat map” of greenhouse gas concentrations from the facility which is what you can see in the image above.


Satellite measurement is an ideal method for monitoring methane emissions from shale gas operations. Current methods require crews to visit each facility on a regular basis, whereas GHGSat’s high-resolution satellites can identify superemitters through periodic surveys of all shale gas operations, without any on-site equipment, at a fraction of the cost of current methods.

As of 2019, GHGSat aircraft measurements will provide very-high-resolution measurements of shale gas plays to complement GHGSat satellite measurements. Very high-resolution measurements from GHGSat aircraft sensors will enable detection of smaller leaks, and localize those leaks within a facility to facilitate repair. GHGSat aircraft sensors will leverage the same post-processing toolchain used by its satellites, thereby cross-validating results and providing cost-effective aircraft services.

tiered monitoring - satellite aircraft hybridGHGSat’s “tiered solution” will combine satellite and aircraft measurements in a single service to detect approximately 90% of all methane leaks (by volume) from shale gas operations. This service is unique – no other company can combine both satellite and aircraft measurements in a single, cost-effective service for shale gas operators.

Regulators are recognizing the benefits of “tiered observation systems”. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently reported a research program dedicated to this concept [4].

[1] US EIA – Unproven, technically recoverable shale resources

[2] US EIA – Producing Gas Wells

[3] Brandt,A et al. Methane Leaks from Natural Gas Systems Follow Extreme Distributions. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50 (22), pp 12512–12520

[4] CARB – AB 1496