A group of COSIA members, including Shell, are looking to the cosmos – or rather, from the cosmos – for improved solutions to measure greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from oil sands operations.

Through a new COSIA joint industry project (JIP) four participating oil sands operators will work with global emissions monitoring company GHGSat to investigate how satellite technology can provide more accurate and frequent measurements of fugitive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces.

“COSIA is literally going out of this world to achieve its vision of accelerating the pace of environmental performance improvement in Canada’s oil sands,” says Wayne Hillier, who is Director for COSIA’s GHG Environmental Priority Area.

The demonstration satellite, known as CLAIRE, launched from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on June 22 2016 at 03:56 UTC (June 21 23:56 Eastern Daylight Time).

Getting to the source

In an oil sands mining operation, GHGs come from three main sources: 1) fugitive emissions, which are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces; 2) process units like those in extraction and tailings operation; and 3) mobile sources like hauler trucks, shovels and light-duty vehicles. The latter two can be measured based on energy usage. Fugitive emissions however are more challenging.

Collaboration taking us further, faster

The COSIA JIP will be building on a common technique called ‘dispersion modelling’, where known emissions sources are combined with meteorological data to determine the concentration and location of emissions in the atmosphere at a given time. In the case of this project, the aim is to reverse the process and develop an ‘inverse dispersion model,’ that will help determine the source of emissions based on the atmospheric conditions and the concentration of methane and CO2 in the atmosphere. The emissions rates will be calculated based on those measurements and will be compared with more conventional technology measurements.

Raman Narayanan, Oil Sands GHG Technology Adviser, sees the real promise in the technology as enabling more effective focus on the most problematic sources.

“With an improved methodology for measuring fugitive emissions, COSIA can begin to look at emissions reduction technologies and confirm their effectiveness.”

“CLAIRE” will remain in orbit for at least one year, circuiting above Alberta’s oil sands mining operations every two weeks. As long as conditions are clear enough, which is expected to be about half the time, the satellite will conduct concentration measurements and transmit them back to Earth. This means the operators will have an estimate roughly every two to four weeks versus a single estimate each year using the current process.

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