Lockheed Martin is part of an industry team behind an infrared (IR) camera that BP plc group businesses are using to manage methane emissions at oil and gas production facilities ranging from Alaska to Angola.

BP operators use VISR flare monitor camera to inspect flare stacks at facility in Angola, Africa.

BP operators use VISR flare monitor camera to inspect flare stacks at facility in Angola, Africa.  (Courtesy of BP)

Those facilities use flaring — the controlled burning of gas during oil and gas production — to eliminate hydrocarbons that cannot be recovered or recycled.

Some unburnt methane, the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas, can escape into the environment. It’s important to measure and manage these emissions, and the industry team’s video imaging spectral radiometry (VISR) flare monitor uses IR images to measure how efficiently the flare consumes emissions.

The VISR flare monitor is the first readily deployable monitoring solution that directly measures methane emissions entering the environment. BP has used the camera at production sites in Alaska and Angola, and is dispatching them to four more facilities this year.

“Inefficiencies in flaring is a potential source of methane entering the atmosphere,” said Peter Evans, BP environmental engineering lead. “BP is determined to tackle such greenhouse gas emissions and help deliver a cleaner, better energy future.

“The VISR flare monitor enables us to do that, by helping us identify opportunities for real sustainable reductions in methane emissions.”
The VISR flare monitor is manufactured by a three-company team. Lockheed Martin manufactures the IR sensor at its Santa Barbara Focalplane facility, leveraging technology developed for advanced tactical fighter jets.

Surface Optics designed the VISR multispectral camera and manufactures the system, and team lead Providence Photonics provides software that analyzes the IR imagery and optimizes flare performance.
In addition to monitoring flare stacks, the cameras can help to continuously optimize combustion as part of a permanent system and maintain flare compliance with applicable regulations such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

For example, increasing combustion efficiency from 96.5 to 98 percent yields a 40 percent reduction in hydrocarbon emissions.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs 105,000 people worldwide.

— Paul Sudlow for Lockheed Martin Corporation.