89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A special jet is monitoring New Mexico's oil and gas emissions

Screenshot from MethanAIR promo video on Vimeo.
Screenshot from MethanAIR promo video on Vimeo.

A nonprofit organization looking to map North American methane emissions has started flying a special jet over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin to gather data on sources of pollution from the state’s booming oil and gas industry.

MethaneSAT wants to eventually use satellites to grab a big picture of methane emissions. But, as it turns out, it’s much harder to get an accurate understanding of what emissions look like on a regional level. That’s why it’s turning to jets.

“It’s making the invisible, visible.”

Jon Goldstein is senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at MethaneSAT. He says the jet is equipped with sensitive imaging and will take around 50 high-altitude flights over the next four months. It marks the first time methane emissions can be calculated over broad areas. He said it’s crucial because methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

“In the short term, it is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at driving climate change,” Goldstein said.

MethaneSAT is a subsidiary of the Environmental Defense Fund, which will use the data to advocate for reducing global methane emissions.

The nonprofit is using these flights as a precursor to its scheduled satellite launch next year. The hope is the technology could become the most advanced tracking system of its kind by mapping methane anywhere on earth.

The flights in New Mexico will focus on the San Juan basin, specifically looking at small leaks that often contribute to global warming.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the 50 MethaneAIR flights will take place across the U.S. rather than just in New Mexico.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
Related Content