Group showcases VR at UT’s Energy Week to help stop methane leaks

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As energy industry experts, researchers, and regulators converge at the University of Texas at Austin, an environmental group is using the platform to showcase a new program it hopes will raise awareness of a persistent contributor to climate change.

The Environmental Defense Fund says methane is responsible for a quarter of the global warming that can be seen today, and leaks at gas wells in Texas contribute to the problem.

“Reducing methane emissions is one of the ways that we can impact our changing climate the quickest right now,” said Colin Leyden, EDF’s senior manager of regulatory and state affairs.

The group developed a virtual reality program that walks people through a gas extraction site to find and fix leaks. Users have access to common technology, like an infrared camera, to see the invisible gas escaping from various points in the extraction process.

Leyden told KXAN they brought the program to UT’s Energy Week to show future energy workers and the public at large that the problem of methane leaks can be solved.

“If natural gas is going to compete in a low-carbon future we have to reduce methane emissions,” he said.

But it’s not just the environmental concern the EDF is focusing on. The group says energy companies lose $30 billion a year due to methane leaks.

The VR program they’re showcasing this week likely won’t end up in classrooms at UT — it’s more for public awareness than anything else, Leyden said — but the EDF sees the role this technology can play in preparing future oil and gas workers for their eventual career.

“I think that before workers get out into the oil field and actually start using the equipment that’s actually going to help solve the problem,” he said, “going through an experience like this could certainly help them out.”

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