Demand for oil has collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic just as supply is about to strengthen because of a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia. As a result, oil prices have sunk to levels not seen since 2002.
As storage tanks around the world fill up, ESA-backed companies are using satellite data to map the flow of oil across the globe through shipping channels and pipelines in almost real time. The analysis allows producers, traders and governments to support the economy by taking informed decisions about the fuel that powers industry and heats homes.
Crude oil is pumped from underground reservoirs into storage tanks that can be seen from space. These cylindrical tanks have lids that float on top of the oil, to minimise any loss through evaporation and reduce the risk of toxic, flammable gases escaping.
Earth observation satellites circle the planet carrying optical cameras that can spot these tanks and measure their diameters.
Such satellites carry synthetic aperture radar instruments that can detect the rise and fall in the height of the lids. This enables the volume of oil flowing into and out of the facility to be calculated.
Some 65% of the world’s crude oil is traded by sea. Satellites can pick up the signals from automatic identification systems carried aboard large ships carrying oil, which enables people to track them as they load up with oil and transport it from one port to another.
OilX, a digital oil analytics company founded in London in 2018 with ESA support, is using satellite data to map the flow of the world’s oil for customers including traders, government departments and investment banks.
Florian Thaler, chief executive and co-founder of OilX, says: “The oil trader’s edge is no longer boots on the ground but eyes in the sky. We combine oil analytics, satellite technology and machine learning to deliver augmented intelligence to commodity markets. OilX is the world’s first digital oil analyst.”[…]
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