The Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), of Falls Church, Virginia, has funded a project resulting in the successful testing of a drone equipped with a methane gas sensor able to detect methane gas with a greater sensitivity than previously available. The tests, when concluded, will provide pipeline operators with a powerful new tool to improve traditional inspection practices, locate small leaks before they grow in size and ultimately raise pipeline safety standards.
The tests were conducted in central California at the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. The jointly conducted test of NASA's Open Path Laser Spectrometer (OPLS) sensor is the latest effort in a methane testing and demonstration program conducted on various platforms since 2014. The ability of the OPLS sensor to detect methane in parts per billion by volume could help the pipeline industry more accurately pinpoint small methane leaks.
"These tests mark the latest chapter in the development of what we believe will eventually be a universal methane monitoring system for detecting fugitive natural-gas emissions and contributing to studies of climate change," said Lance Christensen, OPLS principal investigator at JPL.
NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.