Most people wouldn’t associate modern space satellites with the oil and gas industry. However, with more technology available than ever before, engineers on the ground are more than willing to inspect satellite data when planning future projects or observing current ones. Not only can it help locate vast troves of oil and gas, but it can help avoid wildlife, residential areas, and more.


a web of satellites hovering over earth connecting us all

Where are the satellites?

Most satellites, about 55%, currently orbit Earth at between 160 and 2,000 kilometers, known as low Earth orbit, or LEO. These satellites complete a single orbit around the Earth in anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

Satellites in medium Earth orbit, or MEO, can see a greater portion of Earth’s surface than LEO satellites. They span a height ranging from 2,000 to 36,000 kilometers. They also have quicker transmission times than satellites that are in geosynchronous Earth orbit.

Geosynchronous earth orbit, or GEO, is the second most popular range for modern satellites. Approximately 35% of Earth-oriented satellites stay within GEO, which starts at roughly 36,000 kilometers. Satellites in this range can view the Earth in full rotation. Moreover, they maintain a field of view that covers about one-third of the Earth’s surface at all times.

While other orbits do exist, such as sun-synchronous orbit, or SSO, these orbits are not nearly as common as LEO, MEO or GEO. They also don’t offer any added benefits to satellites used for oil and gas projects.


an oil pipeline in the red desert, off white and contrasting with the rolling red hills in the background

How do oil and gas companies use this technology?

Raw satellite imagery must be refined to be useful to gas and oil engineers. Most professionals require their images to undergo advanced editing and processing algorithms. For example, color balancing helps identify and isolate specific terrain features that could signal hidden oil or natural gas reserves. Engineers can also detect old well locations in this manner.

But more engineers have started to use 3D terrain models to improve their accuracy even further. Thanks to next-gen computer systems and highly advanced graphics capabilities, these digital terrain models appear in everything from fracture analysis to drill site location to pipeline surveillance.

Engineers also use satellites in these ways:

  • Locating or updating coordinates of outdated or defunct wells.
  • Inspecting rocks and soil.
  • Non-invasively mapping preservation areas and remote locations.
  • Taking seismic measurements and monitoring activity.
  • Monitoring seepage from offshore oil rigs.

Once a drilling site has been designated, engineers must monitor the location. Again, satellite imagery makes this job easier in the following ways:

  • It provides security personnel with updated views of the entire facility.
  • It helps organizational leaders plan future pipeline expansions and projects.
  • It lets engineers monitor the surrounding areas and view neighboring developments.

As you can see, next-gen satellites offer increasingly exciting and sophisticated capabilities. Engineers now complete what once required a team of on-site experts, manual geographic analysis and years of planning in half the time and without any on-site personnel. But the best part of all is that this technology is still relatively new. As such, developers and engineers constantly update these satellites and outfit them with the latest software and hardware features.

About the Author

Cara is the marketing coordinator at X2nSat. She's a social media maverick, a content genius, and an author in her spare time. Writing and marketing are her true passions.