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Colorado's methane detectives


Rockies Today

October 31 · Issue #27 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Colorado's methane detectives
Along Colorado’s Front Range, researchers are working to develop new ways of detecting methane leaks, using everything from lasers to light aircraft to drones. As Jonathan Mingle reports for Yale Environment 360, their technologies could curb a potent contributor to climate change, while saving industry billions of dollars in lost gas.
Can a wave of new technology slash natural gas leaks? Can a wave of new technology slash natural gas leaks?
Driving along County Road 28 south of Platteville, the signs of Colorado’s oil and gas boom are everywhere you look. Storage tanks and wellheads dot the horizon. Bundles of pipe sit by the roadside, waiting to become pipelines. Drilling rigs loom behind enormous brown temporary sound barriers, a stone’s throw from homes and businesses.
This infrastructure is impossible to miss, but the methane that leaks from it can be much harder to detect. That’s why Greg Rieker and a colleague are out here on a cold, sun-drenched morning in the middle of the Denver-Julesburg Basin – one of the nation’s fracking hotspots – fine-tuning their frequency comb laser.
Standing atop a small trailer housing the $150,000 device, Rieker gestures across a grassy expanse toward a well pad half a mile away. “We’ve used this system to pinpoint a leak to about a 5-square-meter area,” he says. “It’s a question of, when leaks start, seeing them and sizing them properly so we can alert an operator there’s a problem. There are 20,000 wells out there. This is a Colorado-grown solution, using Colorado technology.”
Rieker is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and chief technology officer of LongPath Technologies, a startup that aims to provide oil and gas companies with a new method for detecting methane leaks from their operations. He is among a growing cadre of scientists and entrepreneurs working to develop and deploy novel technologies to address the growing issue of methane leaks across the fossil fuel supply chain.
In the United States, fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industry total an estimated 13 million metric tons per year, amounting to $2 billion in lost revenue; globally, the value of leaking gas is $30 billion.
Methane is a potent contributor to climate change, trapping 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It is responsible for about a quarter of total atmospheric warming to date, but it only lasts about a decade in the atmosphere, making reducing methane emissions a relatively fast-acting lever for climate action.
State Dept. holds only Keystone XL public meeting
Opponents of Keystone XL oil pipeline said potential for spill is underestimated Opponents of Keystone XL oil pipeline said potential for spill is underestimated
Keystone XL commenters clash at public meeting
Keystone oil pipeline leaks 383,000 gallons in North Dakota
More oil and gas news:
Colorado oil and gas regulators are now pursuing penalties in deadly 2017 Firestone home explosion
The evolution of 'man camps'—from tents to basketball courts and swimming pools
LWCF fight moves to funding
Fight moves to funding on Land and Water Conservation Fund Fight moves to funding on Land and Water Conservation Fund
LWCF spat slows Senate Interior-EPA bill
More news relating to public lands:
ORV dust-up spurs a question: Can feds enforce an off-road vehicle ban in Utah’s national parks?
Colorado-driven CORE Act passes U.S. House but faces dim Senate prospects
US House OKs protections near historical park in New Mexico
Spooky BLM town lives in state of 'arrested decay'
A watershed moment for hemp production
Federal rule on hemp production seen as watershed for growing Colorado industry Federal rule on hemp production seen as watershed for growing Colorado industry
While Colorado has been a leader in the hemp industry for a while, the rest of the country will be catching up with the release later this week of federal rules that will govern the legal production of the crop nationwide.
The U.S Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it will release a rule establishing a regulatory framework for hemp, which was legalized in the 2018 federal farm bill. The interim rule will take effect when it’s published Thursday and will be open to public comment for 60 days. A final rule will be issued in two years.
“A lot of folks, including organizations like Vote Hemp who have been working to get the farm bill passed for 20 years, have been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Shawn Hauser, a Denver-based partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP, a law firm focused on cannabis law and policy. “It’s historic and significant to see federal hemp regulations.”
The rule covers a range of issues. It spells out that interstate transportation of hemp is legal and that no state or tribal government can prohibit shipments. The USDA said the rule eliminates legal uncertainty at the federal level around the crop, paving the way for hemp farmers to apply for crop insurance and providing assurance to banks and financial services dealing with hemp businesses.
In Wyoming and Idaho…
Feds approves hemp program, clearing way for Wyoming producers
Feds issue rule on hemp, but it remains illegal in Idaho
What else we're reading today
Interior watchdog details agency's crackdown on sexual harassment sues anyone who uses its namesake. Is it bullying or just business?
Ski areas across the country are struggling to find seasonal workers, starting to up the ante
The effort to open Wyoming's first new coal mine in decades has cleared a major hurdle
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812