Monitoring Methane in Our Home State

A Bold New Plan for New Mexico

On September 19, 2019, on behalf of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Descartes Labs hosted the 2030 Governor’s Energy and Environmental Technology Summit in Santa Fe, NM. The summit explored ways to leverage the power of technology to build a roadmap for New Mexico’s energy future and to reach the Governor’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030.

A Comprehensive Monitoring Solution

In a key announcement, the Governor and Descartes Labs unveiled the development of a publicly accessible “Data Refinery” to help the state achieve environmental targets by creating mapping and modeling capabilities to help monitor methane emissions in New Mexico, starting with the Permian Basin.

The Data Refinery combines multiple datasets including Sentinel-5P satellite data, locations of oil and gas well pads extracted using computer vision, historical wind models from NOAA, and eventually, aerial and land-based methane sensors from public and private energy market stakeholders.

As far as we know, New Mexico will be the first state to formally leverage data from the Sentinel-5P satellite in a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Descartes Labs CEO Mark Johnson Audience at the Summit Agenda of the 2019 Summit Governor Lujan Grisham
Methane in New Mexico

Proposed process for methane leak detection using the Descartes Labs Data Refinery

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is thought to trap 28 times more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide over 100 years. One of the challenges with methane is the historical lack of reliable tools for large scale detection and measurement. The development of a new large-scale methane monitoring capability is a key outcome of the 2030 Summit that puts the state on the path to effectively track greenhouse gas emissions.

The Permian Basin, which spans more than 86,000 square miles across southeastern New Mexico and West Texas and is the highest producing oilfield in the world, will be the initial area that is mapped—with plans to expand statewide. Large-scale monitoring of methane can help oil and gas companies improve their management of emissions and guide state inspectors to potential problem areas on a near-real-time basis making their job responsibilities safer and more efficient.

A methane composite of the continental United States created by Descartes Labs using Sentinel-5P data. It shows average measured levels in the atmosphere from January to August, 2019. Brighter areas represent higher registrations of methane. Darker areas represent either low methane concentrations or no data.

“Setting a goal is only a first step,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We have to do the work of meeting those goals, and I’m excited to see our New Mexican private sector partners, like Descartes Labs, stepping into the arena. Improved technology is a critical pathway toward executing our vision, and I want New Mexico on the cutting edge.”

“Space-based methane detection using the Sentinel-5P satellite is cutting-edge technology. New Mexico will be a leader by implementing this model,” said Dr. Laura Mazzaro, Applied Scientist at Descartes Labs. “There are several new publicly available satellites scheduled to be launched with higher resolution capabilities between 2020 and 2022, so a path to more detailed measurements is just around the corner. The state can really get a head start on its greenhouse gas reduction goals by building out this capability now.”

Dr.Laura Mazzaro speaking at the 2019 summit.

In the coming year, we’ll be working hard to make the data refinery publicly accessible to New Mexico’s constituents. This will include a dashboard and mapping system to monitor, report, and verify greenhouse gas emissions beginning with methane by March 2020, and extending to other pollutants in the future.

As a state that is deeply reliant on oil and gas revenues, New Mexico is taking a leadership role by setting sustainable and business-friendly policies for the future. Governor Lujan Grisham recognizes that it will take a healthy environment, and a healthy industry, for the state to enjoy continued prosperity in the future. Watch for more news about this exciting initiative as we create a model that we hope other states will follow.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Descartes Labs CEO Mark Johnson announcing the Data Refinery on stage at the 2030 Governor’s Energy and Environmental Technology Summit