Data Dispatch: Success in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin

Published on: Sep 23, 2022

Carbon Mapper Data Dispatches are regular communications highlighting insights and information from the Carbon Mapper Data Portal. We believe awareness is critical in the global fight against climate change. That’s why Carbon Mapper is committed to delivering accessible data on methane and CO2 emissions so that it can be used by policymakers, regulators, operators, and civil society to guide science-based action to reduce emissions. 

Data Highlight

Pipeline leak represented by purple area showing plume in Denver-Julesburg basin, July 2021

Figure 1 shows a gathering pipeline gas leak that was detected in July 2021 in the Denver-Julesburg (DJ) basin in Colorado.

What We See
The image above shows a methane plume stemming from a gathering pipeline gas leak that was detected in July 2021 in the Denver-Julesburg basin in Colorado. This plume was detected during four airborne surveys conducted in the summer of 2021 over the same region using Arizona State University’s Global Airborne Observatory (GAO). The fact that the plume was observed multiple times over a one-month period indicated to researchers that these methane emissions were persistent and likely due to a leak or equipment malfunction. Carbon Mapper data were shared with collaborating university researchers and regulators on the ground, who confirmed the leak with hand-held instruments and notified the operator, leading to an expedited repair.  

Carbon Mapper researchers quantified the methane emissions from this source to be in the range of more than ~100 kilograms/hour, making it a super-emitter—a point source that emits greater than 10 kilograms of methane per hour.  

Why It Matters
This observation is significant for two reasons. First, sustained monitoring over large areas is important for identifying methane leaks in oil and gas infrastructure that may otherwise be difficult to detect in remote areas, particularly buried infrastructure like pipelines. Second, it further validates the importance of high-resolution observations to reveal insights about the sources releasing methane, to within a few meters of their location. 

Having precise geolocated information can be critical for mitigation efforts when different agencies may have jurisdiction over different segments of oil and gas supply chains such as production sites versus gathering pipelines. Frequent and sustained remote observations support methane reduction planning and strategies, even in states and regions where robust regulations are in place.  

The outsized impact of super-emitters on U.S. basins. These observations were part of a larger study published in PNAS of five U.S. basins to assess emissions and quantify the regional impact of super-emitters—and precisely determine their causes using a tiered observation method that involves the coordinated application of multiple aircraft and satellite sensors to observe and analyze methane emissions across a range of scales.  

Airborne observations detected approximately 90 large methane point-sources in the Denver-Julesburg basin including oil and gas, livestock, and landfill operations, contributing to the more than 3,000 identified across all five basins in the study. The research was designed to bridge the gap between research and operations to pinpoint plumes and their potential sources on the ground with the goal of improving the accuracy of emissions accounting and informing strategies for timely mitigation. 

The plume was attributed to a gathering pipeline, a pipeline that moves gas from a drilling site to boosting sites, processing plants, and transmission pipelines. Gathering pipelines on average were the second largest sub-sector of methane emissions across all basins studied in the research. In this case, multiple agencies were consulted before jurisdiction over the leak was determined. After coordination, the area was excavated, unearthing a half-inch hole, which was then repaired by the operator.  

Learn More
For more details about this mitigation success and the results of the broader study, see “Strong methane point sources contribute a disproportionate fraction of total emissions across multiple basins in the U.S.” in PNAS.