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Posts Tagged ‘Picarro’

photo: Duke University

In The New York Times on Thursday, I write about how scientists are using machines designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions to fingerprint the Gulf oil spill to calculate its size and movements:

Scientists from Texas A&M and the University of California, Santa Barbara, will try to measure the size of the gulf oil spill more precisely by taking continuous measurements of methane with machines that can also fingerprint deep-water oil plumes to track their dispersal.

“What’s coming out of the spill currently is 40 percent methane by weight,” Dr. John Kessler, an assistant professor of oceanography at Texas A&M, said in an interview. “We’ll be measuring methane in the water and the atmosphere every 10 seconds, which will gives us an unprecedented amount of data.”

After sailing to Gulfport, Miss., on their research vessel, the Cape Hatteras, Dr. Kessler’s team and a group of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, are scheduled to set out on Saturday to conduct measurements. The voyage is being financed by a $160,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Other expeditions, including one led by Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, have been measuring the extent of the oil spill and taking methane measurements. The difference in Texas A&M’s approach is in technology and technique, Dr. Kessler said.

As the Cape Hatteras travels around the gulf, water will be pumped into a device called a seawater equilibrator in which gases in the water are equalized with air. An analyzer made by Picarro, a Silicon Valley company, will then continuously measure the methane concentrations.

The $50,000 Picarro machines are about the size of a desktop computer and take precise, real-time measurements of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. The company has sold its analyzers to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, governments in China and California, and to academic scientists.

A conventional gas chromatograph allows measurements to be taken only every 5 to 10 minutes, Dr. Kessler said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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In my new Green State column on Grist, I write about how an environmental justice group in Texas is using a greenhouse gas analyzer from Silicon Valley’s Picarro to detect pollution from natural gas fracking operations in two communities near Dallas:

If you had been driving through North Texas this week you might have seen a white Dodge Sprinter van circling some of the natural gas wells and compression stations that have sprung up around the Barnett Shale belt like boom-time subdivisions.

Drillers tap natural gas by splitting shale through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects fluids laced with chemicals into the rock formations. The proliferation of shale gas drilling northeast of Dallas has ignited an uproar among residents, some of whom fear that fracking could be poisoning ground water and polluting the air with carcinogens. But the industry won’t disclose all the chemicals it uses and Texas environmental authorities won’t compel them to do so.

Which brings us back to our mystery van. Inside was a desktop computer-sized analyzer connected to a translucent tube that snaked out the roof of the van. The analyzer is made by a Silicon Valley company called Picarro and it provides real-time measurements of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. By correlating the data with wind patterns, Picarro scientists can pinpoint the source of emissions. Oil and gas operations emit methane, which can also indicate the presence of benzene and other carcinogens, according to Picarro scientists.

This is an image created by a mashup of the methane concentrations recorded by the Picarro analyzer in Flower Mound, Texas, overlaid on a Google map.
A Picarro employee had driven the van to Texas from California at the request of Wilma Subra, a Louisiana scientist, environmental justice activist and MacArthur genius grant recipient. Picarro’s director of research and development, Chris Rella, flew to Texas and joined Subra and activists from Earthworks’ Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project on the hunt for fugitive emissions in the towns of DISH and Flower Mound.

DISH — the name is capitalized because in 2005 the town changed its name in exchange for free satellite television from the DISH Network — is home to about 200 people and a dozen compression stations that push natural gas from wells into pipelines. As the Picarro van drove around DISH, concentrations of methane spiked from background concentrations of 1.8 parts per million to 20 parts per million near the compression stations. As the analyzer recorded the spikes they were automatically plotted on a Google map.

Twenty miles to the southeast in the Dallas exurb of Flower Mound, methane concentrations near natural gas wells literally went off the analyzer’s chart, topping 40 parts per million, says Subra and Picarro executives.

“I see this as very, very beneficial to the environmental justice movement,” says Subra. “It gives you real-time data and you can potentially identify the source as opposed to having to collect air samples and then have them analyzed. You can see the plume on the map and how close houses are to the compressor stations.”

You can read the rest of the column here.

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photo: Picarro

I follow up my story in Wednesday’s New York Times about California’s move to build the first statewide greenhouse gas monitoring network with a look at why such programs may be necessary to prevent a meltdown in the carbon markets:

In Wednesday’s New York Times, I write about California’s move to set up what is believed to be the world’s first statewide greenhouse gas monitoring network.

The Silicon Valley company Picarro manufacturers greenhouse gas measurement devices.
The first objective of the network, which will place analyzers around the state to measure methane in the atmosphere, will be to determine if actual emissions match estimates.

The California Air Resources Board assembles those estimates, called inventories, from computer models that rely on data such as how many grams of methane is burned per gallon of gasoline multiplied by the number of gallons sold in the state.

Such models, which follow protocols established by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are used worldwide. And while monitoring stations scattered around the world measure average global greenhouse gas concentrations, they don’t identify how much methane is being released in, say, California’s Central Valley, where methane emissions from livestock are assumed to be plentiful.

The recent Copenhagen climate change talks faltered in part over the issue of how to verify emissions. And the integrity of emissions trading schemes will depend on ensuring that companies don’t game the market by deliberately or inadvertently under-reporting how much carbon they’re putting into the atmosphere.

“If the markets are not matching reality, we will find out at some point and the markets will then adjust with a huge shock,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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