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Alberta - April 10, 2018

Space may be the final frontier, but one need not board the starship Enterprise to see the benefits of orbiting the earth.

Satellites are being used by the oil and gas industry to understand what’s going on the beneath the earth’s surface. Shell Canada used satellite technology as part of its project application to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in 2016.

Underground Storage

Part of Shell’s application proposed capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) gas from its refinery and storing it deep underground, instead of emitting it into the atmosphere. To get the gas as deep as possible, Shell needed to inject it under high pressure and high temperature.

As with any carbon capture and sequestration project application, companies must submit a monitoring, measurement, and verification (MMV) plan. The purpose of MMV is to address health, safety, and environmental risks, evaluate sequestration performance, and provide evidence that the site is suitable for closure.

Shell’s MMV plan included a number of different monitoring methods, including satellite monitoring to measure any soil movement related to its injection activity.

“Conducting MMV activities like satellite monitoring are imperative in order to demonstrate that the CO2 is properly contained,” says Bola Talabi, director of Business Process, Planning, and Liability with the AER.

Keeping a Watchful Eye

The type of imaging technology used by the satellites is called InSAR (interferometric synthetic aperture radar), a remote sensing technique used to accurately measure ground movement. The sensor is operated by complex math algorithms and is located aboard the satellite, which orbits the earth and repeatedly snaps pictures of the same geographic area.

The sensor measures the distance between two objects on the ground’s surface and assesses whether that distance has changed. The pictures tell experts the extent to which the soil is moving, and how fast.

“If all our calculations are right, then that CO2 will never see the light of day again,” adds Bola.

Other Applications

The AER is currently looking at opportunities to use data gathered by InSAR for different aspects of oil and gas development, such as reclamation work and other activities.

“There’s great potential for using this type of monitoring for reclamation. Not only can we see how much vegetation is regrowing in an area, but we can know what types,” says Bola.


*Images provided by the © Canadian Space Agency

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Story Comments

Bruce Greenfield

The potential for using Earth Observation and Remote Sensing technologies by both industry and the AER is immense! It already supports products that we are using in the cumulative effects work for example. I look forward to using more of this as part of our normal business operations.


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