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Satellite finds methane leaks from gas pipes – Environment – NPR News

Satellite finds methane leaks from gas pipes – Environment – NPR News

A satellite finds massive methane leaks from gas pipelines - Environment - NPR News

Flared natural gas is burnt at a natural-gas plant. Natural gas plants and pipelines can let out methane, which is the main ingredient of natural gas.
Spencer Platt – Image credit

There’s new evidence, collected from orbiting satellites, that oil and gas companies are routinely venting huge amounts of methane into the air.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gaz, is also the fuel. It’s also a powerful greenhouse gas, second only to carbon dioxide in its warming impact. Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences, in France, says that there’s been a persistent discrepancy between official estimates of methane emissions and field observations.

“For years, every time we had data [on methane emissions] – we were flying over an area, we were driving around, we always found more emissions than we were supposed to see,” he says.

In an effort to gain more clarity, researchers turned towards satellites. Three years ago, the European Space Agency launched an instrument called the “The Satellite”. TROPOspheric Monitoring Indicator

(TROPOMI), which can measure the methane daily in any 12-mile block.

Lauvaux claims that TROPOMI detected methane emissions that were not in the official estimates. “No one expects that pipelines are sometimes wide open, pouring gas into the atmosphere,” he says.

Yet, they were. They did, however, count more than 1800 large methane explosions in the two years between 2019 and 2020. Many of these bursts released several tons of methane each hour. Lauvaux and his coworkers PublishedTheir findings are published in the journal this Week Science.

The researchers consulted with gas companies, trying to understand the source of these “ultra-emitting events.” They found that some releases resulted from accidents. However, more often they were intentional. Gas companies simply vented gas from pipes or other equipment before performing repairs or maintenance operations.

Lauvaux claims that these releases can be avoided. There’s equipment that allows gas to be removed and captured before repairs. “It can totally be done,” he says. “It takes time, for sure; resources and staff. But it’s do-able. Absolutely.”

The countries with the highest frequency of methane releases were the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Russia and the United States. Lauvaux said that they found few such releases in countries with large gas industries such as Saudi Arabia.

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According to the researchers the large methane leakages they found accounted for between eight and twelve percent of global methane emitted from oil and other gas infrastructures during that period.

Steven HamburgChief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, who has been focusing on methane emissions, said that these large-scale releases are quite dramatic. But it’s also important to remember the “ordinary” leaks that make up the other 90 percent of emissions from oil and gas facilities. “They really matter!” he says.

EDF intends to launch Its own satellite for methane detectionIt will take approximately one year to develop sharper images and show smaller leaks. Other organizations are working on their own methane detectors.

Hamburg claims that the new monitoring network will change the conversation on methane emissions. Historically, no one could tell where methane was coming from, “and that’s part of the reason we haven’t taken, globally, the action that we should. It was just out of sight, out of mind,” Hamburg says. “Well, it no longer will be. It will be totally visible.”

He believes that this will increase pressure on oil and natural gas companies to fix the leaks.

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