Near-Field Characterization of Methane Emission Variability from a Compressor Station Using a Model Aircraft

Brian J. Nathan, Levi M. Golston, Anthony S. O'Brien, Kevin Ross, William A. Harrison, Lei Tao, David J. Lary, Derek R. Johnson, April N. Covington, Nigel N. Clark, Mark Andrew Zondlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


A model aircraft equipped with a custom laser-based, open-path methane sensor was deployed around a natural gas compressor station to quantify the methane leak rate and its variability at a compressor station in the Barnett Shale. The open-path, laser-based sensor provides fast (10 Hz) and precise (0.1 ppmv) measurements of methane in a compact package while the remote control aircraft provides nimble and safe operation around a local source. Emission rates were measured from 22 flights over a one-week period. Mean emission rates of 14 ± 8 g CH4 s-1 (7.4 ± 4.2 g CH4 s-1 median) from the station were observed or approximately 0.02% of the station throughput. Significant variability in emission rates (0.3-73 g CH4 s-1 range) was observed on time scales of hours to days, and plumes showed high spatial variability in the horizontal and vertical dimensions. Given the high spatiotemporal variability of emissions, individual measurements taken over short durations and from ground-based platforms should be used with caution when examining compressor station emissions. More generally, our results demonstrate the unique advantages and challenges of platforms like small unmanned aerial vehicles for quantifying local emission sources to the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7896-7903
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 7 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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