The Zaap-C complex on a normal day, actively burning. The facility has since been expanded with an additional production platform (Carl Tanzler / CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Published on June 20, 2022 19:08 by

The Maritime Executive







A team led by researchers from the Universitat Politecnica de Valencia used satellite monitoring methods to find and quantify an ultra-wide release of methane from the Zaap-C offshore oil and gas platform in the Bay of Campeche. This is believed to be the first time that remote sensing has been used to detect methane emissions from offshore operations, and it represents a significant contribution to monitoring this potent greenhouse gas.


Based on the researchers’ analysis, the platform complex emitted around 40,000 tonnes of methane over a 17-day period (the warming potential equivalent of around 3.4 million tonnes of CO2) . This cloud of natural gas would be invisible to the naked eye, but methane is easily detectable by infrared. The team used infrared imaging sensors aboard the WorldVision-3 satellite, which were accurate enough to pinpoint the source to the specific platform (Zaap-C) and the specific location aboard the platform. -shape (the torch towers for the production and separation units).


By cross-checking data from a NOAA/NASA satellite capable of detecting active fires, the team determined that the platform’s methane emissions corresponded to days when the facility was not burning gas.


Zaap-C has flared gas more or less continuously since production began in the 1990s, and the shutdown of its flaring towers marked a unique one-time event. Over a 17-day period in December, the team detected extremely large plumes of methane (natural gas) emanating from the platform. This “ultra-emitter” event was nearly equal to all regional emissions from the Mexican offshore sector for a year. This may be the first time this has happened onboard Zaap-C, but the massive size of the release makes a single case significant.


“These [random] events are likely not to be taken into account in the [emissions] inventories, and if they occur frequently enough, they represent a significant contribution to total emissions from the offshore sectors,” the team wrote.


This is the first time that this method of detecting methane emissions has proven effective in locating sources at sea. The methane detection technique relies on the detection of infrared radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface, and as infrared is strongly absorbed by water, the signal level of targets at sea is relatively weak. To increase power, the researchers took images only when the sun was directly behind the target, effectively looking directly at the “sun glare” on the water – the orientation with the maximum amount of reflected light available.


Top image: Zaap-C, 2009 (Carl Tanzler / CC BY NC SA 2.0)





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