Keeping up with the Joneses: how one FLIR camera led to more

Last August, Earthworks purchased a FLIR Gasfinder camera to make invisible air pollution from the oil and gas industry visible. Since then, we’ve traveled the country exposing the pollution and demanding action from industry and regulators.

It’s working.

There are many ways to measure success: families helped, air cleaned, industries fined, but this week we found yet another — FLIR cameras purchased.

I realize we sound like we’re shillling for FLIR. We’re not. FLIR does not sponsor our work, and our relationship with FLIR is simply as a customer.

We chose the FLIR camera because it was already accepted as the industry standard for leak detection. The government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency, lists FLIR as an approved technology for regulators and operators.

So we didn’t introduce FLIR to the scene, but we did raise the profile and importance of catching and correcting leaks by exposing ones that industry hadn’t yet corrected, or possibly even found yet.

Just last week, Anadarko Petroleum was profiled in the Denver Business Journal using the same camera we have to spot leaks.

This is news. Good news.

Anadarko is publicly acknowledging that leaks happen, and (hopefully) taking the necessary action to stop the leaks. With increased pressure from advocacy groups exposing pollution like Earthworks, and the recent announcement of federal regulations to curb methane pollution, buying a FLIR camera (or equivalent) is a necessary step to protect our environment and public health.

Regulators are on board too, especially once they see what the FLIR can do.

On our trip to Kern County, California, where 80 percent of the state's oil is produced and residents are three times more likely to suffer from asthma than the average American, Earthworks partnered with the largely Spanish-speaking rural residents to document air emissions near their schools and homes, using both the FLIR camera and air sampling canisters. These community members presented their findings to the regional air board. So impressed by the evidence, air regulators in Kern County bought their own FLIR camera for future monitoring and enforcement.

When keeping up with the Joneses means protecting clean air and public health it might not be such a bad idea.