Date of Award

Fall 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Engineering

Committee Chair

Xufei Yang

First Advisor

Raja Nagisetty

Second Advisor

Xiaobing Zhou


The growth of hydraulic fracturing has pushed the whole petroleum industries forward. As a result, gas (mainly methane [CH4]) emissions have significantly increased over the past decades (Macey et al., 2014). Gas leaks can occur at almost all stages of a petroleum production process, such as drilling, fracking, and refining. For years, ground-based air quality monitoring has been conducted around production sites. An improved understanding of air quality would be enabled by supplementing ground-based with airborne monitoring. The latter would involve the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry a compact, portable air monitoring system. The purpose of this study was to design and fabricate a UAV-based system for monitoring of CH4 and CO2, the two most important greenhouse gases, over oil fields. The system consisted of an airborne sensor node and a ground station. The sensor node was comprised of low-cost gas sensors, a microcontroller, a LoRa wireless transmitter, a GPS module, and an SD card shield. The ground station was comprised of a LoRa wireless receiver, a microcontroller, and a laptop. Both the sensor node and the ground station were programmed using Arduino IDE. A graphic user interface (GUI) was created using LabVIEW for data logging and visualization on the laptop. Preliminary trials near the university campus showed that the system was capable of measuring CH4 and CO2 concentrations in real time, along with temperature, relative humidity, and GPS location; while sending the monitoring data to the ground station (up to ~800 m away) every two seconds without any loss. The system was further tested at two oil production sites in North Dakota. The results revealed a heterogeneous distribution of CH4 and CO2 over the sites, demonstrating a potential application of the system for air quality survey and gas leakage detection. The advantage of this UAV-based monitoring system lies in its portability, expandability, lower cost, ease of deployment and operation. The overall cost of the system was below 300 dollars, and it weighed 540 grams, including enclosures. The system performance was limited by the selected gas sensors with relatively poorer sensitivity and slower response than regular gas monitors (which are bulkier and much more expensive). However, with the advancement in sensor technologies, it is expected that the quality of monitoring data from the UAV-based system can be considerably improved in the near future.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Engineering