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Mastering methane

Release date:
10 September 2019
BP announces industry-first, continuous methane measurement programme

Drones equipped with space-age sensors are part of a wave of advanced technology zooming into operation at BP’s new major oil and gas processing projects as part of a programme to continuously measure methane emissions. 


The high-tech kit is part of an industry-leading BP programme to continuously detect, measure and enable the reduction of methane emissions at new and existing BP-operated Upstream assets. This crackdown on emissions has been made possible by a raft of new and complementary technologies, such as:


  • Gas cloud imaging (GCI), tested in the deserts of Oman at BP’s Khazzan tight gas project, allowing constant site monitoring.
  • Drones that live stream data, thanks to highly-advanced on-board sensors developed by NASA.
  • Smart glasses for field operators using multi-source augmented reality (AR) to enable the wearer to read sensor information on their lenses and communicate in real time with technical experts at a control centre.
  • Video imaging spectral radiometry (VISR) flare monitors using infrared images to measure how efficiently a flare consumes emissions.
  • Hand-held gas leak detectors.

A BPX technician reads sensor information on her smart glasses out in the field that is relayed to an expert in the control centre

Drones are used to inspect a BPX Energy site in East Texas, US

“This programme represents an industry first and reflects our commitment to be a leader in advancing the energy transition by maximizing the benefits of natural gas,” says Gordon Birrell, BP’s chief operating officer for production, transformation and carbon.


BP believes that natural gas can play an important role in tomorrow’s lower carbon energy system. It is abundant, affordable and has half the emissions of coal when burnt for power.


But natural gas is mainly methane. And, if methane escapes into the atmosphere unburnt, it can be a potent greenhouse gas.


“For gas to play its fullest role in the energy transition, we have to keep it in the pipe. This new technology will help us do that by detecting methane emissions in real time. The faster and more accurately we can identify leaks, the better we can respond and, informed by the data collected, work to prevent them.” 


Gordon Birrell, BP’s chief operating officer for production, transformation and carbon


The continuous measurement of methane emissions marks a step change in the industry’s approach to tackling emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.

Infrared camera detects methane emissions

Measuring methane

Historically, engineering calculations and emission factors have played an important part in quantifying emissions. The proven technology to systematically move beyond that approach hasn’t existed  ̶  until now. 


BP’s vice president of digital innovation, Morag Wilson, lead the hunt for new technologies. She says: “Many of today’s technological breakthroughs were only aspirations until recently. Three years ago, we sat in a room and brainstormed what we would need to achieve continuous measurement, because, at the time, the technology portfolio needed was not yet fully developed.”


GCI, when combined with other techniques, such as drones and what the industry refers to as ‘methane-sniffing’ technology, is now creating a ‘step-change’ in how BP can operate its new major projects, explains Watson. “As a result, inspections that used to take days will now be able to take 30 minutes,” she says.


BP has already set itself a methane intensity target of 0.2% from its Upstream operations and has held a series of methane roundtables around the world, bringing together experts from academia, NGOs and policy-makers to improve understanding across the industry. On the back of those events, BP set out possible actions and priorities, which have formed the basis of recent progress.

Mars calling

BP set a new UK record for the longest commercial drone flight while testing one methane-detecting technology.

A device fitted with highly-advanced sensors, originally designed by NASA for the Mars Curiosity Rover, circled BP’s Clair platform in the UK North Sea for 90 minutes, covering more than 185 kilometres – smashing the previous record of 100 kilometres. 

Throughout the operation, the drone live-streamed the valuable data collected by the methane sensor. The technology is owned by a company called SeekOps, a commercial spin-off from NASA, and effectively ‘sniffs’ the air for methane and records the quantities.


That data can then be used to create a two-dimensional map of methane emissions. This was combined with UK drone supplier FlyLogix’s aviation skills to conduct the groundbreaking offshore trial.

BP intends to deploy the technology across all North Sea assets in 2020, marking the latest step in its global emissions-reduction programme.

The Clair platform in the North Sea, where the drone flight took place

The FlyLogix drone that circled the Clair for a record-breaking 90 minutes

BP’s three-step approach to cutting methane

Cutting methane emissions is a priority for BP. Here’s its three-step approach:


  • Invest: around $1.5 billion every year is being invested in maintaining BP’s infrastructure, helping to prevent leaks occurring in the first place.
  • Deploy: a wide range of leak-detecting technologies to monitor BP operations is being introduced.
  • Eliminate: leaks are fixed according to strict prioritization informed by the detection data.
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