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How Satellites Are Driving Transparency in the Oil Market


The oil market fluctuates constantly, and this usually has to do with technological, political, or economic issues. But often, the constant oscillation in price comes from a serious lack of transparency in the petroleum industry—a problem that many claim is in desperate need of a remedy.

Some companies don’t always reveal the details about their subsidiaries, how much oil is being stored, and where oil sites are located. Because of this, oil costs are largely based on market estimates rather than facts—resulting in seesawing costs that are arguably frustrating for all parties involved.

But now, energy analytics companies like Ursa Space Systems (Ursa) are trying to make the oil market more reliable and honest. Through the use of Planet’s data and satellite imaging tools, Ursa can reveal crucial, hard-to-access information about the energy industry.

For instance, in March, a tank at the ITC chemical plant burst into flame in Deer Park, TX. This resulted in polluted air, school closures, toxic run-off, and the complete shutdown of a section of the Houston Ship Channel; 50 ships were stuck waiting for inbound passage while 26 ships waited to leave. The news of the fire spread rapidly, but what exactly caused the fire and the extent of the damage remained inconclusive.

In situations like these, it’s uncertain whether reports from outside sources are based on official statements, word of mouth—or cold, hard images and data.

By using Planet’s high-resolution SkySat satellites, Ursa was able to verify exactly which tanks were destroyed, providing irrefutable evidence of the ITC aftermath.

Credit: Ursa

What makes Ursa particularly notable is that it additionally focuses on specific countries where statistics and reports are historically untrustworthy. Because they’re focusing on the energy industry, small tank fires that may go unreported or unnoticed by most are on their radar—giving them a more realistic picture of the market.

Ursa also has partnered with other companies to monitor everything from offshore activity, large infrastructure construction and maintenance, drilling activities, and more.

Discovering the “real story” of what happens with oil has historically been a difficult endeavor. Ursa frees those in the energy industry from looking to outside sources for crucial stats—providing much needed certainty in a topsy-turvy market.

To learn more, register for our Planet Live event on May 15, when Ursa and Planet experts will discuss satellite tech and how it could affect the future of the energy industry.