Austin-based SeekOps Inc. will deploy its SeekIR sensors on unmanned, aerial drones to detect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil and gas facilities after approval by the Alberta Energy Regulator for use with Repsol Canada.
The drones will be the first unmanned aerial system to be a part of Repsol’s Alternative Fugitive Emission Management Program (Alt-FEMP). Alt-FEMP is the term used in Western Canada for programs which incorporate the use of leak detection and repair technologies to report emissions. In Alberta, it is run by the Alberta Methane Emissions Program, which has $17 million in funds.
The sensor and the company, originally based in Pasadena, Calif., spun out of work done at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
“It’s a tunable diode absorption spectrometer, so it’s a direct measurement of methane, not a passive or reflective measurement of it. It samples the air close to any emission source,” said SeekOps’ CEO Iain Cooper.
The SeekIR technology is drone-agnostic, and according to Cooper, it is compatible with any enterprise-grade drone. While the company does use some of its own drones, its business model largely focuses on partnering with third-party drone manufacturers.
“Top-tier drone companies, not your wedding photography types,” he continued. “These are well-established companies that do this on a regular basis for industrial facilities, particularly those that have a track record in oil and gas.”
The company has done its own controlled releases, with Stanford University and with operators like BP.
SeekOps works closely with flight regulators as well, given the altitude limits for drone flights.
Cooper describes the technology as “comparing apples to apples” in the way it is able to examine the same waypoints pre- and post-methane leak to determine how the emissions are performing.
“We program in waypoints working closely with the customer with the layout of their locations, and then also a walkthrough on location, should there be any anomalies from any plan,” Cooper said.
“Some of the secret sauce we have in the (quantification) analysis for determining the flux rates and the flow rates from from those (leak) sources, we can probably help prioritize which leaks are fixed, and then which components they don’t need to revisit.”
Another advantage it has over other sensors is that it’s not based in reflectivity, meaning snow on the ground won’t confuse its readings.
The Alt-FEMP program requires reports at least three times a year for each facility surveyed.
SeekOps and Repsol Canada
One of SeekOps’ investors is the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a voluntary, CEO-led group aimed at supporting the Paris Agreement, whose members account for almost 30 per cent of global oil and gas production.
As a part of the OGCI, Repsol put out a competition in 2019 focused on methane detection and quantification. SeekOps attended, and from there, Repsol asked them to complete methane surveys in locations like Pennsylvania and Virginia before asking the company to survey its Alberta assets. Repsol Canada’s headquarters are also in Calgary.
This is where the environmental consulting firm Highwoods Emissions Management came into the picture. Based in Calgary, the firm used an in-house simulation to model a leak detection program using SeekIR and an OGCI ground thermal camera crew.
That simulation showed “that not only would you save money and be more efficient by using combination of SeekOps and the ground-based OGCI camera, but also because of our ability to detect such a low leak rate, you actually would capture more emissions using our technology rather than just simply doing the legacy thermal camera work that operators are doing now,” Cooper explained.
SeekOps’ Canadian future
This marks SeekOps’ first commercial implementation of its sensors in Canada. In 2019, the company participated in an Alberta methane field challenge, which included surveying wells operated by Cenovus and CNRL.
While SeekOps’ relationship with Repsol is older than the one with Highwoods, the company wanted “to be able to use somebody that was a lot more involved in specific Alberta, B.C. markets (and) that understood the regulations as well as had experience in submitting Alt-FEMP applications,” said Paul Khuri, SeekOps’ vice president of business development.
The company had other inquiries from different operators looking to file an Alt-FEMP using its technology, as well as operators looking to use the SeekIR for their own emission services.
SeekOps also has applications in biogas and landfill, particularly around renewable natural gas applications. While it is active in four continents, Cooper says the company “would love to” do more work in Canada. He also mentioned leveraging the successful Alt-FEMP to pursue regulatory approval in certain U.S. states.
“We’re looking forward to exploring opportunities to do that in Canada. especially in Western Canada, where there are the bio-digester upgrader type facilities already in place,” Khuri said.
The company is also field-testing a carbon dioxide version of the sensor as well, which will broaden the range of applications into industries like cement, steel and ethanol production facilities.