Over the last few months, I have seen a lot of methane emissions and leaks throughout Europe. Each of the videos I have taken are etched in my memory. Looking at a single video or photo, I can tell you exactly where it was taken. I remember exactly what was happening when I took the video, down to the finest details about the temperature, wind speed, and humidity that day. I remember where I took the shot and what I had to do to set up the frame.
These are the small details that go into getting the right shot. It takes a lot of work, and I don’t think I am always doing the best job. I sometimes stay at a site for hours trying to get the right shot, especially when I see a significant amount of emissions.
1) Snam-Stogit Underground Gas Storage in Minerbio, Italy
This site was one of the biggest sites I’ve seen, and after all the video I’ve captured across Europe, it remains the biggest methane release I’ve documented. It was my birthday when I found it. I was persuaded to visit the site by Nicola Amaroli, a prominent chemist who lives in the area. We had spoken a few weeks earlier and he said he would be available to show me around when I arrived. We met at 4pm on a very windy day. He talked about the facility and its importance to Italy’s gas infrastructure, then he let me spend some time alone looking at the site.
Within 10 minutes of him leaving, I called him back. I told him that I just found something quite disturbing and that he needed to see it with his own eyes. Nicola, my wife, and I sat there watching methane streaming out of the main stack at the site for another 30 minutes wondering how much gas was being released in the atmosphere.
My wife and I stayed the night in our camper van at a parking lot in town, and I decided I needed to go back the next morning to see if the stack was still venting. It was 7am on a Saturday morning, and the sunrise had set a golden hue across the landscape. I pulled out the camera to look at the stack underneath a tree about 300 meters away. That’s when I captured the video you see above.
2) Snam-Stogit LNG Facility in La Spezia, Italy
I wasn’t planning to visit any liquified natural gas facilities (LNG) when we started planning this work, but I decided at the last minute that I should add this site to my trip to Italy. It was only a four-hour detour. In the worst-case scenario, I would have found nothing and my wife and I would camp for a night in our van on the hills in Cinque Terre.
The location where I set up the shot was a small, beautiful garden. A public park on the water’s edge, with stone stairs leading to a dirt path surrounded by rosemary bushes and orange trees. No one else ever seems to go there. It provided me all the time I needed to set up the shot without any disturbance.
Once I found the leak, I sent some shots back to my team. We were all pretty surprised at what we were seeing.
3) Gascade Compressor Station in Mallnow, Brandenburg, Germany
I first found this leak on a snowy day in the middle of February. It was during the darkest moments of winter, while the second wave of Covid was still lingering in Germany. I was itching to get out of my house, and I figured I would take another look at the Gascade compressor station I had looked at the previous fall. My skills detecting leaks had improved since my first trip, and I wanted to see if there was anything I overlooked the first time around.
When I arrived at the site, it was still snowing, even though the forecast called for sun. Snow makes it extremely difficult to see anything in the camera. You can imagine what cold specs of ice look like in a camera that records thermal energy. I decided to put my boots on and trudge through the snowy field. Right around the time that the snow stopped and the clouds began to part, I found myself in an icy, snowing field with wet feet setting up my tripod to look at the vent stack.
I hadn’t taken a close look at it on my previous trip. I sat there for an hour getting the right footage and waiting as the clouds moved further away. My hands and feet were both numb by the time I got back to the car, but I turned on the heat and drove back to Berlin to upload and review my images.
4) Eni’s Collection and Treatment Center in Pineto, a town in Abruzzo, Italy
This visit was funny for many reasons. Our camper van was in the shop because we thought we were being poisoned by hydrogen sulfide. For previous 24 hours, we had been smelling noxious fumes in the car. We resorted to wearing gas masks that morning because we could no longer handle the smell – and hydrogen sulfide, if that is what it was, is extremely toxic! So, we had an hour to kill, and I decided to go check out this site with Neal, my contact in Italy who had been working for us.
Within five minutes of pulling up to the site, I found this leakage. We had parked on the street right next to a couple of storage tanks, so that is where I first started looking. As I tried to pinpoint the leak, I could visibly see the hole with my naked eye. It seems some rust had formed along the side of the tank.
We tried to tell two different employees at Eni, including the plant manager, but they shrugged us off. We then tried to call Eni’s emergency phone number and it appeared to be disconnected. We got a call from the repair shop that the car was ready, so we took our videos and left.
5) MOL’s Szank 4 Oil Processing in Hungary
I didn’t even have this site on my map. I was driving down a rural road in southern Hungary, not really sure where I was, blindly following Google’s driving directions to my next site when I saw an oil installation on the side of the road. I immediately pulled over and looked at the satellite map to get a better view of the facility. There was a lot of processing equipment at the site, so I decided to turn the camera on and look.
I walked around the side of the property down a dirt road in a public park. It was a hot day and there was a little wind. As a started to scan the property with the camera, I noticed quite quickly some large plumes being released from the pressure valves at the top of the oil separators.
This wasn’t the first time I decided to stop at some random site that I had not thoroughly researched, but it did turn out to be one of the most rewarding random site visits. I chose the blue and red palette for this photo because I thought it did the best job drawing how the vast quantity of gas that was streaming out of the valves at such a high speed.