Methane monitoring without false positives
US-based SeekOps is establishing a global customer base for its methane sensor technology, which independent assessments show can detect 100% of leaks at oil and gas facilities without producing any false positives, CEO Iain Cooper tells Gas Pathways.
SeekOps fits its lightweight SeekIR sensors on unmanned aerial systems (UASs) that both transmit first-look data to operators in real-time, and provide detailed quantification. The open-path laser spectrometer sensor was initially developed by NASA and was subsequently licensed and further developed by SeekOps. In trials carried out by EDF and Stanford University in 2019, the sensor managed to detect 100% of leaks with no false positives.
"SeekOps' system provides highly accurate, localised, and quantifiable methane gas leak data, making it easier than ever to pinpoint the exact location and the severity of equipment leaks, facilitating repair triage," Cooper says.
While SeekOps is exploring CO2 detection, its main focus is methane, which is far more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, but with a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere. That means that action taken now by methane-emitting sectors can yield a significant climate benefit in a relatively short amount of time.
This helps explain the surge in interest in methane emissions detection among oil and gas operators, which are under growing investor and regulatory pressure to reduce their climate footprint. But he adds that those same operators can find the challenge of addressing their emissions “overwhelming.”
"Technology and regulation have not moved hand-in-hand, and it can often feel like a daunting task for operators taking the first steps to addressing their emissions to know what to do," he says.
SeekOps’ technology is just one part of the equation of emissions monitoring and abatement, Cooper says, recognising the need for operators to also use satellite monitoring, as well as on-site handheld cameras and fixed sensors (which effectively can be thought of as ‘smoke alarms’ for early detection).
"Operators are seeking a complete solution," he says, which is why SeekOps is looking to pair up with other service providers for methane detection, quantification and abatement to offer operators a "one-stop shop" for what they need.
The investors that SeekOps has secured have helped forge these partnerships and form relationships with customers. The company completed Series A financing in 2019, bringing on board the OGCI Climate Investments fund, supported by some of the world's largest oil and gas companies, along with Norwegian state oil and gas producer Equinor. It completed its Series B round this summer, led by US services giant Schlumberger.
Cooper, who used to head Schlumberger’s corporate venturing unit, believes SeekOps’ solution can be offered as part of a suite of emissions abatement technologies by the US oilfield services giant.
The Series B round also attracted Caterpillar Venture Capital, the investment arm of engineering group Caterpillar, while both OGCI and Equinor took the opportunity to expand their investments in the company.
The latest funding series will help scale the company globally – a process that the pandemic has slowed down, given travel restrictions. But Cooper says its teams took advantage of the downtime to make improvements to the automated solutions that SeekOps offers operators. SeekOps aims to become cash flow positive by mid-2023.
Larger oil and gas majors are leading the way in emissions abatement, but SeekOps is receiving growing interest in its sensor technology from the smaller independents, and it is these independents that will prove the “litmus test” for whether the industry is committed to long term emissions performance improvements, Cooper says.
SeeksOps' work is mostly in North America and Western Europe at present, although it is starting to generate interest in its sensors in North Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. It has also done some surveying in Oman and Azerbaijan and will soon head to the Caribbean to undertake some work.
Outside the oil and gas space, SeekOps is also doing work in the renewable natural gas (RNG)/biogas space, primarily in the US and the Netherlands and is looking to expand in Germany. It has also performed detailed surveys in other key methane-emitting sectors such as landfill.
This article first appeared in Gas Pathways, a platform dedicated to technology and innovation in the natural gas industry. Click here for more information.