Advancing Leak Detection and Localization with Methane Sensors on Drones

Field testing of small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) with advanced methane detectors (National Fuel Gas service area).

Closeup of sUAS (drone) with advanced methane sensors.

An sUAS is prepared for takeoff during testing.

Since 2016, NYSEARCH members have been funding work with JPL/NASA and more recently drone experts AA/SAIT from Calgary to optimize application of methane detectors from small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) or drones. Periodically, new algorithms from the JPL/NASA program have been tested in various controlled and live field situations. During October, two different sensor systems mounted on drones with the JPL/NASA integrated control system were tested in rural and suburban locations at National Fuel Gas (NFG). Both systems showed excellent response in detection and promising results for leak ground localization. These field tests confirm the capability of new JPL/NASA detection algorithms and show that a commercially available methane sensor, when applied in the same way can be used successfully for leak detection in rural and suburban LDC applications.

NYSEARCH’s Senior Project Manager, Joseph Mallia reports that "alignment of the drone test predictions were very consistent with actual ground locations of the native leaks. Both sensor systems tested performed well in this early stage of testing." Shown in the figures are scenes from the testing at NFG. Additional methane detection and ground localization tests are planned in the NYSEARCH sUAS Surveillance project during the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2019 with the goal to finalize algorithms and guidance on the application of off-the-shelf methane sensors with these unique detection schemes.


For over thirty years, NYSEARCH has worked as a consortium of natural gas Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) who have a common interest and need for research and technology development and demonstration. Today, as part of the Northeast Gas Association (NGA), NYSEARCH manages over (30) projects in various stages of development for LDCs, transmission companies, federal agencies and their manufacturing and commercial partners. NYSEARCH is located in Parsippany, NJ and NGA is headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts.