The naked eye can’t tell you much about methane. Sometimes, distortion wavers above an open pipe or tank at an oil and gas well like the haze of heat over a desert highway. When Earthworks’ Sharon Wilson aims her FLIR camera, however, the screen renders the scene in black and white and plumes of black smoke can be seen wafting skyward.
“There are so many pipes and vents and tubes, it’s a lot of opportunity for holes,” said Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate with Earthworks, an environmental organization that monitors and reports methane emissions to regulators. “This industry is built to leak.”
Oil and gas engineers say that’s the system releasing pressure before it compromises equipment, well production, or worker safety. But those pressure valves leak methane.