Jaxon Caines, technology reporter, Hart Energy: I’m Jaxon Caines and this is your Hart Energy exclusive interview. I'm at S&P Global's 2024 CERAWeek conference with Phillip Father, CEO of Scepter to talk about their methane-sensing balloon. So to start things off, what exactly is this balloon and how does it work?

Phillip Father, founder and CEO, Scepter: Well, the balloon is part of a broader platform to detect methane that we've innovated on and just perfected. At the end of last year, we flew a couple missions and actually got it to work quite nicely in October, and the balloon has on board a hyperspectral sensor. So that's a light-based sensing technology that we can point to the ground to detect methane leaks. And part of that package on the payload is the sensor’s also contained in a thermal enclosure to keep it stable. And also we innovated on a comms package to get the data out of the balloon so we can transmit it to the ground in real time. And it's actually quite a nice platform to do methane detection on a regional basis, so a basin like the Permian, and operate regionally, and we can actually detect small leaks. We're down to a 10 kg methane per hour.

JC: Now why would you say that the industry needs this?

PF: Well, because the legislation, right? You have stuff coming from Washington D.C. and I actually think from how we've gotten to know Exxon Mobil, our co-sponsor on this, there's just a great goodwill to get the leaks under control and there's actually cost savings associated with it as well. This type of platform can pay for itself and maybe more so based on the methane saved over time.

JC: Has this balloon made a difference in the operations you guys have done?

PF: Well, we think so. We're right at the start of that, so this is a real time platform where we can get leak detection out of the balloon and quantified so we can see the leaks. But then we also have to measure how large they are in terms of methane emitted. And what we're trying to do as a next step is to push it into apps so Exxon Mobil and others can have access to it in the field, and we can actually pinpoint where the leak is so they know which equipment to go out and fix right away.

JC: And you spoke about being able to see the leak specifically in the field. What's the coverage area of the balloon?

PF: It's actually pretty good for where we are. So we hovered about 60,000 feet to 70,000 feet, or I should say dwell. We move around a little bit, but we can stay over certain areas and we're at about a 20-mile diameter. So as we move around during the course of a day—eight to 10 hour day—and then over the course of weeks, because this platform can stay up for weeks if not months, we get quite a bit of coverage over an area of interest or an entire basin.

JC: Where, and also who, is sort of using this below?

PF: Well, right now we've perfected it in collaboration with Exxon Mobil, and we're now starting to make it more broadly available to the industry. So we hope to be flying with others. And we have another flight coming up in April and another one here in September. And we'll not only fly the Permian, but it looks like we're going to be flying South America and maybe other regions of the world.

JC: What are you guys sort of looking for for the future? What are some of you guys' future plans with this balloon?

PF: Well, thanks for asking because that actually puts the balloon in context for what we do. So really Scepter is a big data company, and we're just using stratospheric balloons and eventually low earth orbit satellites with hyperspectral sensors to be able to detect methane and other atmosphere constituents like air pollution, particulate matter, etc. on a global and real time basis. What the balloon helps us do is to capture data today a little bit more cost effectively in a small area of the world, in a region like a basin, which in itself is actually quite large if you think about the Permian and a lot of activity. So what we're hoping to do is to fly more stratospheric platforms to work with our customers for their regional data activity, show them the information in the insight and how we can help them, and then we scale to our low Earth orbit satellites. And more to come on that.

JC: Well, Phillip, it was amazing learning about you guys and your balloon. I'm Jaxon Caines, and this has been your Hart Energy exclusive interview. Find out more at hartenergy.com.