bridger photonics

The Bridger Photonics logo reflects a tree at the company headquarters in Bozeman on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

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A Bozeman high-tech laser company that uses lasers to scan for gas leaks has contracted with the largest natural gas well operator in the U.S.

Bridger Photonics will get paid $9 million to scan Diversified Energy Company’s wells, pipelines, production facilities and other infrastructure in the Appalachian Basin for gas leaks over three years.

Diversified Energy Company, a natural gas producer, is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, and operates about 69,000 wells in the U.S.

The company grows by acquiring mature wells across the U.S., and claims it’s now the largest well operator in the U.S.

Bridger Photonics will be aerially scanning for methane emissions in the Appalachian region with its lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) technology.

The company should start scanning for emissions in 2022. Bridger Photonics scans for methane emissions aerially, using the lidar sensors equipped on helicopters or airplanes, said Brian Hogan, the project development coordinator with Bridger Photonics.

Because Diversified Energy Company acquires already mature wells, some of its infrastructure is aging.

“With that comes a lot of issues,” Hogan said. “... That’s really where we come into play.”

Despite scanning wells and pipelines in the Appalachian Basin, all of Bridger Photonics’ work will stay in Bozeman. A team here will map scans and flight plans.

“The only thing that actually departs Bozeman are the sensors,” Hogan said.

The lidar sensors can catch more than 90% of overall methane emissions on average and is quicker than traditional surveying, which typically takes place on foot.

In a press release, Diversified Energy Company said working with Bridger Photonics was aimed at reducing methane emissions. During a trial done earlier in the year, Diversified Energy Company said the lidar sensors found leaks smaller than the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition for methane emissions.

Hogan said the technology is more efficient than traditional surveying — with boots on the ground — and doesn’t have to account for a margin of human error.

And, at least for now, the aerial scans for gas emissions are supplementary to EPA regulations that require more traditional surveying for gas leaks.

But that may change. ExxonMobil is in the process of applying with the EPA to use Bridger Photonics’ lidar technology in lieu of foot patrols and to satisfy existing EPA regulations.

The Alternate Means of Emission Limitation application is under review with the EPA, which is in the process of rewriting the rules around emission limitation.

Hogan said he’s hopeful the EPA will approve that by early next year.

That would open doors for the company to offer the service as the only regulatory requirement for detecting emissions, rather than an “above and beyond” service, Hogan said.

It’s a relatively new technology. Bridger Photonics, founded in 2006, first started using it in 2015 and released it commercially in 2019.

Since 2015, the company has twice been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s SCALEUP program to develop and commercialize lidar.

Now, “we’re expected to become the very first alternative technology for methane detection by the EPA,” Hogan said.

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