Fracking Footprint Visible from Space

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Methane gas, a main component linked to damaging climate change, is being released in record amounts in the Four Corners region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet. The Four Corners regions is one of the prime location for fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. A joint study by researchers at the University of Michigan and NASA finds that the environmental impacts of fracking are more significant than previously documented. With the help of a satellite instrument — the European Space Agency’s SCIAMACHY — a team at University of Michigan has been able to get regional methane measurements over the entire United States back in 2009. Using this tool, they were able to identify the hotspot at the Four Corners. The footprint is so large it is visible from space.

Eric Kort, an assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, states that, “there’s so much coalbed methane in the Four Corners area, it doesn’t need to be that crazy of a leak rate to produce the emissions that we see. A lot of the infrastructure is likely contributing.”

Unfortunately, the SCIAMACHY is no longer operating, so the US does not currently have exact levels of methane leakage, however Kort will be going by airplane to collect further data this year.

Source: “Damaging Pollution Fingerprint of Fracking Spotted from Space,” Click Green, October 9, 2014,

Student Researchers: Coleen Walsh and Michael Brannon (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)