Satel­lites re­veal ma­jor new gas in­dus­try meth­ane leaks

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environmen­t -

Last fall, Euro­pean Space Agency satel­lites de­tected huge plumes of the in­vis­i­ble planet-warm­ing gas meth­ane leak­ing from the Ya­mal pipe­line that car­ries nat­u­ral gas from Siberia to Europe.

En­ergy con­sul­tancy Kayrros es­ti­mated one leak was spew­ing out 93 tons of meth­ane ev­ery hour, mean­ing the daily emis­sions from the leak­age were equiv­a­lent to the amount of car­bon diox­ide pumped out in a year by 15,000 cars in the United States, Reuters re­ported.

The find, which has not been re­ported, is part of a grow­ing ef­fort by com­pa­nies, aca­demics and some en­ergy pro­duc­ers to use space-age tech­nol­ogy to find the big­gest meth­ane leaks as the po­tent heat­trap­ping gas builds up rapidly in the atmosphere.

Kayrros, which is an­a­lyz­ing the satel­lite data, said an­other leak nearby was gush­ing at a rate of 17 tones an hour and that it had in­formed Ya­mal’s op­er­a­tor Gazprom about its find­ings this month.

Gazprom did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about the leaks iden­ti­fied by Kayrros.

Up to now, es­ti­mates of green­house gas emis­sions from in­dus­tries have re­lied mainly on pa­per­based cal­cu­la­tions of what’s pour­ing out of tailpipes and smokestack­s, based on the amount of en­ergy con­sumed by peo­ple and busi­nesses.

But as satel­lite tech­nol­ogy im­proves, re­searchers are start­ing to stress test the data — and the early re­sults show leaky oil and gas in­dus­try in­fra­struc­ture is re­spon­si­ble for far more of the meth­ane in the atmosphere than pre­vi­ously thought.

Such a rev­e­la­tion would heap pres­sure on en­ergy com­pa­nies — al­ready tar­geted by cli­mate ac­tivists and in­vestors for their con­tri­bu­tion to car­bon diox­ide emis­sions — to find and plug meth­ane leaks.

The new satel­lite dis­cov­er­ies of meth­ane leaks could also lead to more strin­gent reg­u­la­tory regimes tar­get­ing nat­u­ral gas, once seen as a “clean” fos­sil fuel, as gov­ern­ments seek to com­bat cli­mate change, ex­perts said.

While sci­en­tists gen­er­ally agree that cal­cu­lat­ing emis­sions based on con­sump­tion works well for car­bon diox­ide, it is less re­li­able for meth­ane, which is prone to un­ex­pected leaks.

Meth­ane is also 80 times more po­tent dur­ing its first 20 years in the atmosphere and sci­en­tists say that iden­ti­fy­ing meth­ane sources is cru­cial to mak­ing the dras­tic emis­sions cuts needed to avoid the worst im­pacts of cli­mate change.

“What this now shows is that the avoid­ance of that fos­sil leak­age ac­tu­ally can have a larger im­pact than what was an­tic­i­pated ear­lier,” said Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don cli­mate sci­en­tist Jo­eri Ro­gelj, who is one of the au­thors for re­ports by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC).

A study in Fe­bru­ary’s

Na­ture mag­a­zine re­in­forced the idea that the oil and gas in­dus­try pro­duces far more meth­ane than pre­vi­ously thought as it sug­gested emis­sions of the gas from nat­u­ral causes have been sig­nif­i­cantly over­es­ti­mated.

The find­ings don’t let farm­ing off the hook — it’s still re­spon­si­ble for a quar­ter of the meth­ane in the atmosphere — but they sug­gest mud vol­ca­noes and nat­u­ral oil and gas seep­ages have been tak­ing some of the heat for the en­ergy in­dus­try’s leaks.

Some big oil and gas com­pa­nies such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell are tack­ling the is­sue by in­vest­ing in satel­lite com­pa­nies or sign­ing mon­i­tor­ing deals so they can find and plug their leaks and stick to pledges to slash emis­sions.

The push to de­tect emis­sions from the sky be­gan when US ad­vo­cacy group En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund (EDF) and uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing Har­vard used aerial mea­sure­ments to show meth­ane leaks from Amer­ica’s oil and gas heart­land were 60 per­cent above in­ven­to­ries re­ported to the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

In an Oc­to­ber re­port, GHGSAT es­ti­mated the leak re­leased 142,000 tons of meth­ane in the 12 months to the end of Jan­uary 2019 and said then it was the big­gest on record.

GHGSAT said the leak was plugged in April 2019 af­ter state oil com­pany Turk­men Oil was no­ti­fied.

“That one emis­sion that we found to­gether rep­re­sents about one mil­lion cars taken off the road per year,” said GHGSAT founder Stephane Ger­main.

Now, the more re­cent Kayrros dis­cov­ery has added to the ev­i­dence that un­de­tected meth­ane leaks from the en­ergy in­dus­try are a global is­sue — and a ma­jor one.

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