Beginning in 2019, EDF and our research partners used data from satellites, helicopters, aircraft, vehicles and towers to document the volume of methane emitted across our study areas.
To ensure reliable data, we collected methane emissions in three ways: from the air, from towers and on the ground. The data was cross-referenced with TROPOMI satellite data in order to determine an estimate of methane volumes across the Permian Basin.Our team of atmospheric scientists and leak-detection experts spent more than 100 days in the air surveying the study area.

The majority of our measurements were taken in a 10,000 square-kilometer grid that spans the Delaware Basin, a subsection of the broader Permian Region. This high-producing area contains only 10% of the region’s active wells and produces about 40% of its oil and gas.Over 100 different companies operate the 11,000 wells in the study area. They range from big operators like Exxon, Shell and Chevron, to midsize players like Occidental Petroleum, and small independents that may only own one or two wells each.We also studied a portion of Midland Basin in order to compare emissions across different subsections of the Permian.
From the AirBeginning in 2019, our team of atmospheric scientists and leak-detection experts spent more than 100 days in the air surveying the study area.Some flight paths were large, focused on characterizing the total emissions from large regions. Others were much smaller in scale, with the goal of zeroing in on a cluster of selected sites.Using methane sensors and the mass balance approach, our researchers with Scientific Aviation identified and quantified areas with high emissions levels and estimated leak rates across the study area. Sites were surveyed multiple times through the study period so that we could track changes and emissions improvements over time.We also worked with Leak Surveys Inc., a veteran leak detection company used by operators across the country, to gain insights about the prevalence of flare malfunctions and other large emission sources. LSI used a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera to conduct a random survey of thousands of flares across most of the Basin to determine their impact on the region’s methane emissions.Carbon Mapper researchers partnered with the PermianMAP project in the summer and fall of 2021, detecting nearly 1,700 plumes over 26 flight days.All aircraft research concluded in fall 2021.
From TowersMethane sensors installed at five towers across the study area are continuously measuring methane concentration on a 24-7 basis and will continue into 2023. Using an atmospheric transport model, Pennsylvania State University researchers observe how methane plumes move across the region each day. This provides us with monthly estimates of the region’s total methane emissions.From the GroundThe University of Wyoming led the ground team. Equipped with a mobile methane detection vehicle and an infrared camera, they randomly surveyed several dozen sites to identify the specific locations and equipment that emit abnormal volumes of methane.This approach allowed us to measure lower, site-level emissions that may not be detectable by aircraft so that scientists can draw conclusions about the cause of emissions from all sources, not just the super-emitters.From SpaceWe cross referenced our data with data gathered from the TROPOMI satellite, which shows the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin.
Verifying the findingsWe used proven scientific methods to measure methane, and published our results in peer-reviewed scientific journals.Published work using data collected from this project:Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics: Concurrent variation in oil and gas methane emissions and oil price during the COVID-19 pandemicNature Communications: Methane emissions from US low production oil and natural gas well sitesEnvironmental Science and Technology: Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Pipelines in the Permian BasinScience: Inefficient and unlit natural gas flares both emit large quantities of methaneADVISORY PANEL MEMBERSAdam Brandt, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CaliforniaMary Kang, McGill University, Québec, Montréal, CanadaAnthony Marchese, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, ColoradoEric Kort, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Sharing the resultsAll data is available to the public at permianmap.org.
The Operator Performance DashboardThe Operator Performance Dashboard is designed to provide oil and gas companies, and other Permian Basin stakeholders, with data about operator performance as well as the location of measured methane events. We are also sending this data directly to the responsible companies so they can make immediate operational Improvements to decrease emissions.Operators and regulators have been notified about these emission events. Some emission events are temporary and may no longer be active or may have already been repaired. For a more detailed look at the data, visit the full dashboard.Read the final summary report.
If a leak or emission is deemed a potential risk for explosion based on the location of the leak (near where people work, live or congregate), research teams will immediately notify the relevant local authorities.
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