The world’s first climate propaganda satellite to be launched?

This is quite something, and yet puzzling. The Environmental Defense Fund, an NGO with a history of environmental propaganda and  a huge budget, plans to launch their own methane-detecting satellite. They ask,

What if we hit the brakes on climate change by tracking gas emissions from space?

First, NASA satellites can already do this, so their project seems redundant. This image from a 2014 paper Schneising et al. :

Image of nighttime lights assembled from data acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on board the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership satellite in 2012 overlaid with changes of methane anomalies during the periods 2006–2008 and 2009–2011 over the continuously growing oil and gas production regions Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Marcellus derived from the ­Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (­SCIAMACHY) satellite instrument. Nighttime lights background NASA/overlay by O. Schneising

One has to wonder, why does EDF need a satellite? And, if they do, given that they are a highly biased organization, could anyone trust the data it produces? This seems to me more like a funding goal wrapped in a boondoggle that will never launch. If it somehow does launch, I believe the data will be used for propaganda purposes, rather than real science. And there’s more concerns, read the report from EID below.

From Energy In Depth:

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) this week announced plans to launch a $40 million methane-detecting satellite that EDF President Fred Krupp touts “would be the first capable of monitoring worldwide all oil and gas facilities with precision.” From EDF’s blog post announcing the project:

“MethaneSAT is designed to measure areas of interest with a level of precision not previously available. It will use a wide, 200 kilometer view path at intervals of seven days or less, making it feasible to regularly monitor roughly fifty major oil and gas regions accounting for over 80% of global production. MethaneSAT will also be capable of measuring emissions from feedlots, landfills, and other man-made methane sources.”

Not surprisingly, the project’s rollout received widespread media coverage featuring little scrutiny and many important factors left unreported. That noted, here are four things you need to know about this project and the extensive media coverage it’s received, as well as EDF’s past methane research and methane emissions in general.

#1. Satellite Studies Have Significant Limitations

In what amounted to a full endorsement of EDF’s project, The New York Times (NYT) reported on Thursday, “To address the problem of finding leaks around the world, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences called for methane monitoring from space, where international access is not a problem.”

What the NYT fails to mention is the fact that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report actually recommendedregulators use a combination of facility-level (bottom-up), aircraft and tower measurements (top-down) and satellite measurements in order to improve accuracy of methane emission inventories. Why? Because satellite measurements have significant limitations, as the NAS report discussed in detail.

From the NAS report:

“[S]atellite-based retrievals will never be able to be as accurate or precise as ground-based in-situ instruments, as the measurements are always affected by other confounding factors such as aerosols, which can never be fully eliminated with passive remote sensing (see Chapter 4). If proven successful, future active remote sensing using Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), such as the Methane Remote Sensing Lidar Mission Merlin (Pierangelo et al., 2016), might alleviate these caveats and enable year-round measurements from pole to pole. Active measurements are unlikely to achieve true global coverage, however.”

“Current satellite instruments have been shown to have persistent biases in space and time.”

“… For the reasons mentioned above, accurate ground-based and spatially contiguous satellite observations should be seen as complementary to other approaches, with the combined systems overcoming weaknesses in the individual elements.”

“Satellites can provide a complementary view of regional methane abundances from their vantage point in space. However, remotely sensed data are not as accurate as in situ measurements, which can be calibrated against standards (see Chapter 3). In fact, current satellite instruments such as SCIAMACHY have been shown to have persistent biases in space and time (e.g. Bergamaschi et al., 2013; Houweling et al., 2014) that need to be accounted for if satellite data are to be assimilated into atmospheric inverse models.”

Granted, EDF is claiming its satellite project will feature far more advanced technology than past satellite projects. However…

#2. The Technology EDF Touts Hasn’t Been Fully Developed Yet

The previously linked media reports on EDF’s announcement almost breathlessly tout technology that would seemingly address the satellite limitations listed above and usher in a new age of absolute certainty on the methane emission data front. EDF doesn’t hold back on the hyperbole, either.

Krupp told the Washington Post that the new satellite will be “designed to do one thing way better than anyone’s done it,” while project head Tom Ingersoll said the satellite “would use infrared spectrometers and track methane’s signature wavelengths and reflection of small packets of light, or photons.”

High-tech stuff, no question. But it is important to emphasize that, by EDF’s own admission, some of the technology discussed in the media hasn’t been fully developed yet.

As the New York Times reported, “The environmental group is also working with Steven C. Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science at Harvard, and his colleagues to address the daunting technology challenge of creating an infrared spectrometer that can detect methane plumes on the Earth’s surface.”

The Washington Post reported, “[EDF] has reached out to Ingersoll and others in the commercial space business to create a device that will be able to measure methane emissions on a 125-mile wide swath with pixel resolution of less than five-eighths of a mile.”

In other words — this is a work in progress.

Along with the fact that the actual launch date of the satellite is likely two years away (EDF says it won’t actually “lift off until 2020 at the earliest”) it is clear that the hype generated by this project may be a bit premature based on the long road ahead on the technology-development front. The project, which will rely entirely on financial contributions from a “coalition of philanthropists,” has also yet to be fully funded.

#3. Past EDF Studies Have Found Low Methane Leakage Rates

EDF continues to tout in the media that its well-publicized $20 million series of methane studies that preceded this project “shows that emissions are significantly higher than previously estimated.”

But what is actually important — and woefully underreported — is the fact that each of those EDF studies found low methane rates well below the 3.2 percent threshold for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits. Five of those studies are featured in the following EID graphic illustrating the most prominent research showing low leakage rates from U.S. natural gas systems.

Here is what the above-listed EDF studies found.

  • Allen et al. (Leakage rate: 1.5 percent): This landmark 2013 EDF/University of Texas study was the first to measure actual emissions, and it found emissions “nearly 50 times lower than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency,” confirming beyond a shadow of a doubt natural gas’ climate benefits over coal. Activists have attempted to discredit this study by claiming the use of a potentially malfunctioning measuring device by the researchers led to an underestimate of emissions, but that claim was recently debunked by an independent EPA audit. UT and EDF followed up with two more studies, which also found very low methane leakage rates.  These studies concluded that methane emissions from the upstream portion of the supply chain are only 0.38 percent of production. That’s about 10 percent lower than what they found in their 2013 study.
  • Lyon et al. (Leakage rate: 1.2 percent): Using “top down” measurements from aircraft over the Barnett Shale in Texas, this 2015 EDF/University of Houston study found very low leakage rates, despite the fact it was a “top down” study with the significant limitation of being unable to attribute methane detected to other potential sources, such as agriculture and natural seeps.
  • Marchese et al. (Leakage rate: 1.6 percent): This 2015 EDF/Colorado State University study took direct measurements from 114 gathering stations and 16 processing plants across 13 states. Using these measurements, along with EPA data from other segments of the natural gas supply chain, the study found an overall leakage rate that EDF’s Mark Brownstein noted is “well below what most scientists say is advantageous for the climate.”
  • Zavala-Araiza et al. (Leakage rate: 1.5 percent): This 2015 EDF study analyzes data from 12 previous EDF Barnett Shale papers and finds low methane emissions despite being, as the report puts it, “biased toward high-emitters.” Notably, a recent NOAA study reveals the “super-emitter” data Zavala-Araiza et al. relied on used air measurements likely collected during episodic maintenance events, which skewed emissions higher than they typically would be. As a result, these “peak” emissions data were inappropriately used to calculate a normal emissions profile.
  • Zimmerle et al. (Leakage rate: 1.3 percent): This 2015 EDF/Colorado State University study finds low overall natural gas system methane leakage rates based on 2,292 onsite measurements from transmission and storage facilities along with additional emissions data from 677 facilities and activity data from 922 facilities.

Each of these EDF studies found leakage rates in the range of 1.2 and 1.6 percent, which is notable considering they were generally regarded to be the most comprehensive studies of their kind at the time they were released. Each is also in line with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates and well below the 3.2 percent threshold for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits.

#4. Best Available Data Show U.S. Oil and Gas Methane Emissions Represent Small Portion of Global Total

EDF estimates that global oil and gas methane emissions are roughly 75 million metric tons annually and notes that the, “The International Energy Agency estimates the industry can feasibly reduce its worldwide emissions by 75 percent – and that up to two thirds of those reductions can be achieved at zero net cost.”

Read the entire report here

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90 thoughts on “The world’s first climate propaganda satellite to be launched?

    • Dave, no they are very well funded. $40 million is a piece of cake for them, though probably little more than a fund raising ploy.. Appreciate not only do the receive individual donations, some quite large, settlements, etc but they also like most environmental organizations, invested heavily. I no longer try to track environmental organizations’ financing as I once did but the last time I checked one group had over $250 million invested in stocks, bonds, etc. Not only does it give them an income from dividends and sales of assorted financial instruments but that specific organization had enough shares in a few companies to have an influence at stock holder meetings.

      • So now not only do we find ourselves wishing for colder weather to prove the bums wrong, even though colder is worse for the world, but we have to wish for a major market crash to shut the idiots up!

      • Yes, but that’s to fund the War on Moisture.

        Do you realise humans breathe out both CO2 and moisture? Every time you sneeze you threaten the planet How do you think birds got the flu?

        And humans are made of carhon and water … do the math.

    • There certainly must be some ulterior motive here. I wonder if this is a plot to somehow charge so called methane offenders, if the Ds can get a future alarmist candidate in the White House, or by gaining control of the House and Senate? They could then say we see your emissions and here is the fine, or we shut you down.

    • Not even Exxon has its own satellite. The entire skeptic establishment couldn’t pull that much money together if we tried. Yet one of the environmental “non-profits” (and not the biggest, I might add) has sufficient resources to consider a 40 million dollar project on top of their other expenses, full time employees, and lobbying campaigns?

      How did the environmentalists possibly get the media to think that we are the ones with the big money behind us?

      • Repetition repetition repetition… The more socialist you are the more regulations and crippling control of the oil, gas, coal industries you want. You also want government control of everything else but you keep hammering home every chance you get how much money those industries have. Your base loves to hear it and the more your shills in the media, (who never actually bother to look at the financials) can repeat this the more it must be true. It’s inconvenient to actually look at data and compare all the capital the enviro-fascists have as opposed to the semi-green fossil fuel corporations. That would be fair and scientific which is annoying and doesn’t help the narrative.

      • Perhaps it could locate Methane Seeps indicative of potentially prior unknown, unexploited Gas Sources

    • ResourceGuy,

      From what I have read above, they want a spatial resolution of about 1,000 m/pixel, which is about an order of magnitude coarser than the resolution of the original USGS ERTS multispectral scanner from something like 45 years ago. There is no guarantee that any given pixel will land exactly on the center of the hog farm. If the hog farm is sitting on the adjoining boundary between two or more pixels, the methane signal will be contaminated by the area covered by the pixels outside the farm. For precision, they need a spatial resolution that will insure that at least two pixels cover the area of interest.Therefore, what they will probable get is a lower-bound on the estimate of the methane in any pixel. This will be very ‘broad brush’ estimate of the concentration of methane. Nothing is said above about the precision of the methane concentration measurements.

      Where will the ground stations be located to achieve global coverage? If they put the satellite in orbit, who is going to do the image/signal processing? Will it be handed off to some graduate students to do the processing cheaply? Will the data be publicly available so that it can be verified?

    • I note that the areas on the map showing higher methane levels are also those with lots of cattle. I think they have their heads up a cow’s butt instead of their own for a change.

    • Pigs and cows are pretty far down the list of biological methane sources.

      Most methane is produced by decaying debris from sources such as wetlands, rivers and streams, gas hydrates on the ocean floor and melting permafrost. Termites are the second largest source of global methane emissions. Next come the extraction and burning of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. Livestock are a minor source.

      But many of these sources share decay of organic material in anaerobic conditions.

  1. So not only will we have biased government agencies promoting fake science with satellites in the future we will have biased private agencies promoting fake science with satellites. To correct this montrosity of science, Trump needs to fire Gavin Schmidt of NASA and any top officials in NOAA that are in on the scam as well.

  2. Would FlatulenceSat be capable of differentiating the unrestrained methane emissions of vegans/vegetarians from the less effusive evolutionary optimized omnivores?

    • No, the sensitivity declines precipitously in high-fart regions which is an open invitation to data fiddling and extrapolation to adjacent low-fart regions.

      But the real problem is one of ground-truthing and recruiting people willing to go through the arduous process of avoiding contamination of data and samples that distorts instrumental caibration, to under-read the real level of blurts present.

      Robotics may be the answer.

  3. Why is methane an issue? Fill in the blank:

    At current rates and concentrations, methane will run up global temperatures (____deg) by 2100.

    If you do a internet search looking for the answer, it’s unlikely that you will find it.

    • Steve,
      You are being logical. We can’t have that. That doesn’t ‘sell’, as click bait online or to separate the gullible from their hard-won earnings! Methane emissions necessarily must be adding to the ‘crisis’ that is solely man made. Fling funds and demonstrate contrite obeisance to the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW), you CO2 sinner! /s

      • J Mac at 12:00 pm

        Thank you for your sarcasm. At today’s rates and concentrations methane is on track to run global temperatures up a few one hundredths of a degree by 2100. In other words an amount so small as to be insignificant and unmeasurable.

      • Steve,
        I agree. I share your aversion to the irrational stupidity displayed by those believing either CO2 or Methane are ‘polluting greenhouse gases’ that are responsible for overheating our planet.

    • On the edge of the Bakken here and it has been 10-20C colder than usual here for the last two months. How cold would oit be if we didn’t have a little methane going for us? Can they tell us that?

    • EDF financials are here.

      Many of these enviro greenie organizations like World Wildlife and Greenpeace are hugely big buck operations, and their financial statements are available online.

  4. It’s ironic. For all the fretting over the ‘mass starvation’ that is supposed to happen from climate change, my guess is if you diverted the money spent on propaganda, you could buy cheeseburgers for damn near every human being on earth.
    With fries.

    • Would $40 Million even buy the whole bus? Launch vehicle and everything?
      I’m not current with the current cost of launch vehicles, but unless Elon Musk is going to give them a free ride on one of his Falcons, I doubt it (although it does sound like something he would do)

  5. The OCO-II was touted as being supposed to be able to identify individual power station’s CO2 emissions. Did it happen? No. It was over-sold.

    I don’t believe they will currently be able to do any better with a methane satellite. But it is probably better to see them spend their money on this than on the other nefarious purposes that environmental activist organizations usually do. If it did happen, I think the science ‘community’ is still honest enough to call them to account if they started cooking the raw data wholesale.

    • My impression is that the OCO-II satellite didn´t give the answer NASA was looking for, so, after releasing the data during the first few months and noticing that the highest CO2 concentrations were not placed where supposed to be (volcanoes and deciduous forests instead of cities) they stopped providing the data. A few months later they released a computer processed data that fit their narrative. It was heavily criticized around here and now nobody cares about OCO-II any more.

      And that is what may happen with this methane satellite, if the raw data fits the narrative, they will release it, if not, they will “computer process” the data before releasing it.

      • Yes, Urederra, I broadly agree with that assessment.
        On balance I think that OCO-II was still a ‘win’ for those who considered the CO2-carbon cycle to still be poorly understood and that the models are hugely inaccurate. Sure, it didn’t get any great media attention at the time, but the alarmist side effectively scuttled away with their tail between their legs.

        I suspect that the ‘consensus’ (ho ho) CH4-carbon cycle is even more inaccurate and less well understood than the CO2 part. Thus I see nothing to be afraid of if they wish to send up a methane satellite. We might actually learn something scientifically interesting, and they will know people are watching. Oh yes, they will know.

      • The most challenging task for independent thinkers these days is reading between the lines. Just sayin’

      • “My impression is that the OCO-II satellite didn´t give the answer NASA was looking for”

        The graphic they had on the site disappeared without trace. It showed the majority of CO2 to be from non-industrial regions.

        Which, I think, underlines the level of corruption involved in climate science.

  6. How do these amounts compare to natural methane emissions? Is it like natural CO2 emissions that dwarf fossil fuel emissions so that the growth in the atmosphere is over 90% natural?

  7. What would the tipping point be for a reconsideration of warmists to see the benefits of higher CO2 accompanied with a warmer climate, stable sea- level rise and stable ocean ph? That is if CO2 continues current increase but climate change turns colder anyway finally establishing temperature/CO2 sensitivity.

    • I believe they mean “net cost” as in, the savings in reduced losses will be as much or more than the cost of detection and repair. I would agree that at least initially the reductions will be worthwhile, but leak monitoring is a very labor-intensive task. It’s not going to be a one-and-done process, and the better and newer your system is, the less valuable leak detection becomes.

      • In the US, the chemical process industry has been thoroughly smacked by the fugitive emissions hammer. I’d be astonished if there was more that about 5-10% left to tighten up on.

  8. Fart tax!
    Maybe they with monitor national flatulence from this piece of soon to be space junk.
    The most flatulent western nations will be subject to UN agreed methane leakage tax.

    • No fart tax – a soy diet makes far more flatulence. So that would be a tax principally on their backers. Therefore, no fart tax. Green taxes are for OTHER people.

  9. Given “the hype generated by this project may be a bit premature” isn’t all this gnashing of teeth and mouth-frothing also a little premature?

  10. I think it is just as likely that they are lining up a methane panic to take over when the public no longer believes the CO2 scare. It would be interesting to know what orbit this satellite will be in.

    The extent of power and money that NGOs are in possession of is the most disturbing aspect of the contributions above. These unelected, unaccountable, cross border organisations are the biggest threat we may all be facing. People used to think it was corporations that threatened the d3mocratic process, but it looks to me like that we got that wrong. Our politicians are struggling and most are failing to stand up to the arrogance of these increasingly out of all political control organisations whose senior members enjoy lavish lifestyles unimaginable to those who contribute their money in return for increasingly wayward and regressive actions. Some NGOs consider their actions above the law and behave with near contempt for democratic values. That arrogance seems to be why some of these people view poor people as expendable or useful sexual entertainment as Oxfam have so disgracefully demonstrated – being more concerned with the bad publicity than the victims of their executives in Haiti. Or the abuses of the WWF in harming indigenous forest people in the Congo.

    This doesn’t look like it is going to end well.

  11. The world’s first climate propaganda satellite to be launched?

    8-)
    If it’s their satellite, who controls the data from it?

    PS I thought the CAGW dudes didn’t like satellite data? Or maybe they just don’t like satellite temperature data that doesn’t support CAGW and the need to control Man?

  12. I stopped reading the article at the price tag of forty million dollars. And I have not yet read the comments.

    I used to give regularly to EDF, back in my gullible days. Of course, I grew out of that many years ago. That’s NOT what I would have wanted my contributions to be spent on. Certainly, there would be better uses of forty mil than this. What a waste of contributions!

    Perhaps EDF should stand for “Extremely Dumb Fund” now.

  13. How much is it going to cost to get their 40 million dollar bird into orbit and how much will it cost per year to collect and analyze the data from it? The gas in our atmosphere that holds the most heat energy and is the most responsible for the atmosphere’s insulating effects is not CO2 or CH4 but rather N2. When are they going to build a satellite to monitor concentrations of N2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? In terms of so called greenhouse gas theory, H2O is by far the primary greenhouse gas so H2O rather than CH2 is really the greenhouse gas that they should be tracking.

  14. They can detect all the methane they want and as accurately as they want. However, the main question will remain as it has with CO2 – Can anyone MEASURE the amount of temperature change caused by the “greenhouse gases. All we have is theories so far, and that includes the “climate sensitivity.

  15. Methane is meant to be the spare plan B satan-gas in case CO2 doesn’t come through. But somehow I’ve never been able to get all that excited about it. It’s bog gas. That‘s all.

  16. Methane, “swamp gas”, has been the cause many UFO sightings. Many they’re just looking for ET so he can go home?
    (Empathy for another being who’s from “out there”.)

  17. I had cause to link the methane graph yesterday, and said that the concentration had plateaued at about 1730 ppb in 2006, then rose again as the shale-gas boom kicked in. It’s nice to see my comment confirmed by the above NASA graphic from Schneising et al.

    The 2006 plateauing was of course due to the rate of oxidation balancing rate of release. So when the shale-gas boom slows you can expect the same thing to occur – another plateau.

    But that isn’t especially important anyway, since empirical ECS appears to me to be well below 1 C/doubling. ECS applies to CO2 and to methane because it reflects the feedback effects, which are independent of the gas doing the IR absorption. Thus the EDF’s concern about methane is just as silly as their concern about CO2.

  18. “monitoring worldwide all oil and gas facilities with precision”

    Are they actually claiming that these are the only sources of methane in the atmosphere?

  19. So, let’s review: Methane … 1,817 parts per BILLION, … up from 1,730 parts per BILLION, twelve years ago.

    I couldn’t even do a drawing to capture how insignificant this is, because such a drawing would not fit on a computer screen to where you could see the methane percentage.

    Imagine a roll of toilet paper extending from New York to London. One part per billion would be one sheet of this roll. I think the toilet paper visualization is particularly appropriate here.

    With a length of, say, 12 cm per sheet, 1,817 sheets would be 218 meters, … compared to the whole distance from New York to London, which is about 5,577,000 meters [that’s five MILLION, five hundred, seventy-seven thousand meters]

    And EDF is spending how much to monitor such variations? — 40 MILLION dollars ?

    … just keeping it real.

    • One does not need a graphic to understand the significance, as plain arithmetic will suffice.
      .
      1817- 1730 = 87
      .
      87/1730 = .0503
      ..
      Everyone understands 5% especially when it comes to either a pay raise or sales tax.

  20. EDF is in trouble financially. Their nuclear programme is desperately short or cash and reactors are riddled with problems so this might be some way to “print” billions more !!!

    • I think EDF is the Environmental Defence Fund….NOT Electricity de France. No reactors involved, just over-reactors! : ]

    • D’you mean the pin-head that thought up this little spending spree? He sports a few methane molecules doing his “angel dance” I’m sure.

  21. Would the fart tax be figured the same for everybody, or would everybody be required to wear a fartometer linked to a government tracking station, linked to the IRS, who would figure each specific individual’s fart volume for the year, and bill accordingly ? Would there be tax incentives for not eating beans and cabbage?
    Could people with gastrointestinal issues sue for prejudice ? What happens if the fartometer malfunctions and erroneously records massive volumes that never happened, resulting in erroneous tax billings that would cause many appeals, etc.?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

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