Evolution, Current State of the Art, and Interpretation of Aircraft-Based Methane Emission Quantification at the Natural Gas Basin-Level

Garvin Heath, S. Schwietzke, T. Vaughn, D. Zimmerie, G. Petron, S. Conley, I. Mielke-Maday, S. Wolter, E. Dlugokencky, P. Tans, R. Schnell, C. Bell, D. Nummedal

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Accurately quantifying methane (CH4) emissions from the oil and gas (O&G) industry is challenging given the existence of many potential emission sources, differences in industry practices and regulations, and often incomplete or out-of-date activity data. It is thus important to regularly assess emission inventories and support improvements by deriving independent estimates using state-of-the-science approaches. Recent research has provided CH4 emission estimates from the O&G supply chains based on different measurement techniques at multiple spatio-temporal scales. Natural gas basin-scale aircraft-based atmospheric measurements indicate greater CH4 emissions1 than emission inventories based on up-scaling of component-/facility-level emission measurements from a relatively small sample size. Here we present results from a coordinated field study that compares concurrent CH4 emission measurements using different techniques and scales to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, with a focus on the aircraft-based estimation method. We describe the importance of (i) decades of measurement technology development, (ii) experience in designing measurement sampling strategies and aligning system boundaries, and (Hi) properly interpreting CH4 emission estimates for successfully reconciling aircraft-based measurements with emission inventories and for identifying CH4 emission mitigation potential. We illustrate that aircraft-based top-down estimates represent a brief snapshot of total basin-level CH4 emissions. Thus, a high spatio-temporally resolved bottom-up emission inventory is needed to identify key CH4 sources (including episodic sources) at the process level. While this paper provides a brief overview of the overall study design and findings, its focus is on the implementation of the aircraft measurements and its interpretation and results. A separate paper2 describes in more detail the overall organizational structure of the study as well as the study implications from an industry perspective.

Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2018
Event27th World Gas Conference, WGC 2018 - Washington, United States
Duration: 25 Jun 201829 Jun 2018


Conference27th World Gas Conference, WGC 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 27th World Gas Conference, WGC 2018. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-6A20-75201


  • aircraft measurements
  • methane emissions
  • natural gas


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