Satellites Put The World’s Biggest Methane Emitters On The Map For Public Scrutiny
Now the companies and countries responsible for a powerful greenhouse gas won’t be able to hide from view. Satellites Put The World’s Biggest Methane Emitters On The Map For Public Scrutiny
Orange and yellow pixels flash over American drilling heartlands around the Gulf Coast, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Dark red stretches across Middle East and China, while disturbing dots of color pop up around Greenland’s coast.
GHGSat Inc. released a new methane map on Wednesday that uses data from the company’s two satellites, which were launched earlier this year and can detect methane emitted by oil and gas wells, coal mines, power plants, farms and factories.
It’s part of a wave of climate surveillance that will make it possible to hold countries and companies accountable for meeting targets to reduce and eventually eliminate planet-warming pollution.
“We’ve got a situation where for more than the last decade there’s been a significant and unexplained upward tick in global methane atmospheric concentrations,” said Jonathan Elkind, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
In a paper published last week, Elkind outlined the way satellite-driven transparency will better allow investors to identify which companies aren’t backing their goals with action.
The time-lapse map published by GHGSat covers a six-month stretch through October 10—less than two weeks ago—based on weekly images captured from space. Average methane emissions are represented in green, at about 1,800 parts per billion, with yellow above average and dark red at the high end of the scale.
The early readings cover the lockdowns that aimed to slow the Covid-19 pandemic, which devastated demand for oil and sent methane emissions lower. Intensification on the map shows how quickly methane can build during the hot summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, with orange and red pixels along the Arctic coast and around Beijing.
The map identifies concentration of methane across the troposhere, where naturally occurring emissions such as from wetlands mingle with those caused by human activity. Mountains can be seen trapping methane, such as in Southern California near the Sierra Nevada range or in South Asia below the Himalayas.
Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, although its greenhouse impact fades much faster.
GHGSat claims its satellite offers the highest-resolution methane data publicly available, and the it sells access to companies ranging from Royal Dutch Shell Plc to landfill operators. In the next year, GHGSat plans to release additional data that will also quantify emissions, said Stephane Germain, president of the Montreal-based firm.
That will make it clear how much methane is released by drilling in the U.S. Permian Basin every week, for example. The company is also developing a carbon dioxide-monitoring satellite that may be launched into orbit in 2022.
Satellite data will ultimately transform the way nations are held accountable for voluntary commitments under the Paris Agreement, which calls for limiting global average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Granular data that can pinpoint emissions down to specific facilities will also help track corporate emissions. “Very soon nobody is going to be able to hide from methane leakage,” former BP Plc Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley predicted in 2018.
Other organizations are also working to root out unknown emissions leaks. The Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory are developing MethaneSat, a project to measure human-made emissions by satellite and supply that data to the public.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released. At least a quarter of today’s global temperature increases are caused by methane from human sources. And one of the largest sources of these emissions today is the oil and gas industry.
Cutting oil and gas methane emissions is the single fastest, most impactful thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we work to decarbonize our energy system. Reducing oil and gas methane emissions 45% by 2025 would have the same 20-year climate benefit as closing 1,300 coal-fired power plants.
MethaneSAT will provide regular monitoring of regions accounting for more than 80% of global oil and gas production, identifying not only the location but also quantifying the emissions rate with unprecedented precision — giving MethaneSAT the ability to monitor changes in total emissions over time. MethaneSAT will also be able to measure methane from industrial agriculture and other sources.
MethaneSAT will locate and measure methane emissions from oil and gas operations almost anywhere on Earth, producing quantitative data that will enable both companies and countries to identify, manage, and reduce their methane emissions, slowing the rate at which our planet is warming.
Other satellites can either identify emissions across large geographic areas or measure them at predetermined locations. MethaneSAT will do both. It will cover a 200-kilometer (124-mile) view path, passing over target regions every few days. Along with a wide field of view, the instrument will provide highly sensitive, high-resolution methane measurements.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released. At least a quarter of today’s global temperature increases are caused by methane from human sources. And one of the largest sources of these emissions today is the oil and gas industry.
Cutting oil and gas methane emissions is the single fastest, most impactful thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we work to decarbonize our energy system. Reducing oil and gas methane emissions 45% by 2025 would have the same 20-year climate benefit as closing 1,300 coal-fired power plants.
MethaneSAT will provide regular monitoring of regions accounting for more than 80% of global oil and gas production, identifying not only the location but also quantifying the emissions rate with unprecedented precision — giving MethaneSAT the ability to monitor changes in total emissions over time. MethaneSAT will also be able to measure methane from industrial agriculture and other sources.
An imaging spectrometer will separate the narrow band within the shortwave infrared spectrum where methane absorbs light, enabling MethaneSAT to detect methane concentrations as low as two parts per billion, and focus in on areas as small as 100 meters.
Once the raw information is transmitted back to Earth, an innovative data platform will automate complex analytics, transforming a process that now takes scientists weeks or months into one that provides users with a continuous stream of actionable data in a matter of days.
The platform algorithms will calculate the rate that methane is escaping into the atmosphere based on winds and other atmospheric conditions, determining the location and volume of methane coming from individual point sources as well as cumulative emissions across larger areas.
MethaneSAT LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund, which has a long record of working successfully with both businesses and policymakers to create innovative, science-based solutions to critical environmental challenges. EDF has also been a leader in methane research, policy and management practices.
Beginning in 2012, EDF organized an unprecedented series of 16 independent studies that produced more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers involving more than 150 academic and industry experts to assess methane emissions at every stage in the U.S. oil and gas supply chain. A 2018 synthesis of the work published in Science found that the U.S. oil and gas industry was emitting at least 13 million metric tons of methane a year—nearly 60% more than government estimates at the time.
MethaneSAT is intended to both enable and motivate faster action to reduce these emissions. With many oil and gas companies starting to set methane reduction goals and a growing number of states and countries looking to strengthen methane policies, the need for accurate, high-resolution quantification of total emissions that can be tracked over time has never been greater.
But the data won’t be just a tool for industry and governments. The mission was also founded on the principle of transparency: making data available at no cost so stakeholders and citizens can see and compare the progress across both companies and countries.
The idea for MethaneSAT was first unveiled by EDF President Fred Krupp in an April 2018 TED Talk, as one of the inaugural group of world-changing ideas selected for seed funding by the Audacious Project, successor to the TED Prize.
NASA is designing a stationary satellite called GeoCarb to collect 10 million daily observations of the concentrations of carbon gases across the Americas.
New insights into methane emitters have already prompted regulatory action. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline for a possible Clean Air Act violation after Bluefield Technologies Inc. discovered a mystery leak using satellite imagery, and Bloomberg News identified the likely source.
Last year, GHGSat found a giant methane plume in Central Asia oilfield; getting it stopped was the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.
Some trends are already visible in the new GHGSat map. China appears to have above-average background readings for natural reasons, Germain said, but methane emissions from rice paddies and coal mines may also contribute to the red zones. Germain noted that China is home to 10,000 of the world’s 12,000 coal mines.
As expected, areas with high levels of oil and gas drilling activity—from West Texas and New Mexico to the Caspian Sea and parts of the Persian Gulf—show higher levels of methane, likely caused by leaks and flaring. But there are also high methane levels in parts of northern Canada and Siberia with little to no industrial activity.
It’s also unclear what’s causing red zones to emerge across the Sahara desert, Germain said, and it’s possible that increasing concentrations in Saudi Arabia may partly be the result of winds carrying methane from other regions, not just the local production of fossil fuel.
“If you are a company and you see more red in the areas that you operate in, you should care,” said Germain. “A very small number of sites are responsible for the vast majority of man-made emissions globally. If you can find those industrial emissions, you can have a significant impact.”
Investors Gauge Future Climate Risks With Satellite Imaging
Asset managers are analyzing pictures and data taken from outer space to predict the physical impacts of global warming.
The world was watching end-of-days scenes: Firefighters in yellow jackets, blurry against a copper sky, battled to push back walls of flames. Veterinarians tended to badly burned koalas and kangaroos. Dazed survivors picked through the ruins of their torched houses.
Chris Kaminker was one of the many remote onlookers unnerved by the images of Australia’s most recent bushfires. In London, where he leads sustainable investment research and strategy at $65 billion Lombard Odier Investment Managers, Kaminker couldn’t escape the thought that he’d seen this apocalyptic vision before.
Indeed he had—a 2008 report commissioned by the Australian government had predicted that by 2020 climate change would cause the country’s fire seasons to start earlier, end later, and be more intense.
“The physical reality leaping off of the pages of scientists’ reports that warned us decades ago was simply shocking to behold,” says Kaminker, a 37-year-old dual U.S.-French citizen. “What struck home was the realization that the scientists really did get this right, sadly.”
So why hadn’t financiers like Kaminker been better prepared for the extent of the damage to life and assets? Something must have been missing in the data. This is where Kaminker believed he could add some value.
An alum of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Société Générale SA, Kaminker ran sustainable finance research at SEB, the Swedish bank that structured the first green bond, before joining the asset management arm of Swiss private bank Lombard Odier last year.
In a newly created role, he was responsible for developing ways to analyze how the warming planet—and increasing pressure to cut carbon emissions—will affect companies. The idea was, of course, to give the firm’s funds a unique investment advantage.
Kaminker made two big moves. First, he dedicated himself to building expertise in a field known as physical risk, which involves understanding and predicting the potential damage to assets and infrastructure from a changing climate and extreme events.
The Central Banks and Supervisors Network for Greening the Financial System, an international group of institutions aiming to address global warming, said in June that as much as 25% of the world’s gross domestic product could be wiped out by losses from physical damage alone by 2100 if no further action is taken on climate change.
Second, he recruited Laura García Vélez from the World Wildlife Fund conservation group as a geospatial analyst, tasked with studying satellite images, geographic information system data, and historical cartographic records.
Vélez, 31, first learned about geospatial techniques while working for a utility in her hometown of Medellín, Colombia, where she assessed how suitable locations were for hydropower plants. Growing up in a country that’s both lush in rainforests and full of minerals and energy resources made Vélez see climate change as more than a scientific phenomenon or an investment strategy.
“What tends to happen is that the places that have more biodiversity and are more important in terms of their ecosystems are also places which are very rich in natural resources. So it’s really difficult to just put in place those trade-offs if a country is developing and its economy depends substantially on commodities,” she says.
At WWF, Vélez was a key contributor to a joint report with Investec Asset Management (now called Ninety One) that explained how geospatial data and satellite imagery could detect warning signs for a sovereign debt portfolio by spotting potential environmental hazards and countries’ progress in managing them. In July, Ninety One, which manages £118 billion ($153 billion) in assets, launched a country risk index with WWF that builds on that research.
Vélez joined Kaminker in January, and they began studying the Australian fires. They were frustrated with the widely used climate models produced by the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, or CMIP, which receives contributions from at least a thousand researchers and is cited in United Nations reports.
They found the CMIP models failed to show that huge fires would ravage New South Wales, the southeastern state that’s home to Sydney, with such ferocity. They became convinced that geospatial analysis could do more than help calculate the damage from extreme events—it could help forecast where these calamities might occur.
New Space Race
It’s been almost 75 years since the first photo of Earth was taken from space. Insurers have used satellite data since the 1990s to model flood and hurricane risks; commodity traders and some hedge funds have used the images to track traffic at shopping malls and monitor usage of oil storage facilities.
The cost of launching a payload into space has fallen significantly—by a factor of 20 since the 2000s, according to one estimate—and now many more satellites are in orbit, pinging back an ever-larger volume of images. Virtually every building and tree on the planet is under daily surveillance. Computing breakthroughs, most notably developments in artificial intelligence, have made the tools to interpret and analyze the data much more readily available.
And we’re just at the start of this new space race for financial data, says Rowan Douglas, head of Willis Towers Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub. Douglas predicts that within five years spatial techniques will be deeply embedded in financial and risk analysis across the industry.
But there are limitations. The cost of purchasing data from satellite providers remains high, according to Kaminker. And, while satellite imagery of any point on the planet is available, there isn’t yet any corresponding or interlinked database showing who owns each piece of property. Investors may struggle to gain a full picture of a company’s impact on the environment or vice versa.
There are projects under way to remove some of these roadblocks. For instance, the U.K.-based Spatial Finance Initiative is working to make geospatial capabilities widely available for financial decision-making. It plans to introduce a database of the location and ownership of global cement and steel facilities by the end of 2020, says Ben Caldecott, a founder of the initiative and founding director of Oxford’s sustainable finance program.
Kaminker and Vélez developed an alternative to the CMIP models by compiling data on local temperature, rainfall, wind speeds, and humidity from meteorological agencies, adding their own analysis of images from satellites.
After doing backtest trials, Kaminker and Vélez determined that the images could have predicted, with some degree of certainty, the location and severity of the Australian fires a month before they occurred.
So Lombard Odier Investment Managers began making greater use of satellite data and Earth observation, and physical risk analysis has become one of its key inputs in investment decisions.
Kaminker declined to provide details on the specifics of its current portfolio, but he said physical risk and geospatial data were material factors in decisions related to California utility PG&E, U.S. timberland company Weyerhaeuser, Brazilian iron ore giant Vale, and Brazil’s JBS, the world’s biggest meat company.
Seeking An Edge
Once seen as a peripheral topic for money managers, climate change has become a material element in investment decisions. BlackRock Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink said in his annual letter to CEOs in January that “climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects” and would bring about a “fundamental reshaping of finance.”
For most fund managers this manifests as a focus on incorporating environmental, social, and governance factors in their investment decisions—buying and selling stocks based on how well they score on factors such as carbon emissions.
Now firms such as Lombard Odier are seeking an edge with a view from space. Instead of waiting for a company’s annual sustainability report, they’re using satellite images to get a real-time picture of its emissions. In this way they’re measuring and managing risks, but also arming themselves with more accurate data to push companies and governments for change.
In March, Lombard Odier created a climate transition fund. The strategy, with more than $500 million under management, invests in companies that will profit from the move to a lower-carbon world—either by creating solutions to curb greenhouse gases or making aggressive efforts to cut their own emissions.
The fund also includes companies building infrastructure for a warmer planet or those that monitor physical and financial risks related to climate damage. Its biggest holdings include engine maker Cummins, grocer Kroger, sports apparel manufacturer Nike, and carmaker Volkswagen, according to a Lombard Odier spokesman. The fund returned 13% in the three months to mid-October.
Meanwhile, Kaminker and his 10-person team are working on a host of additional tools to analyze the exposure and resilience of companies to climate change, including one that assesses the extent to which more than 23,000 companies are aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.
Kaminker says 10 years ago he’d have never imagined he’d be doing the work he’s doing today. “I’m a finance guy, I am not a climate scientist,” he says. “This is about risks and returns. We’re not doing this for many other reasons. It’s primarily because we’re an investment institution, and these issues could be material to financial considerations.”
The Tech Tracking Down Methane Leaks
From satellites to drones to cameras, here’s the gear helping scientists, activists, and regulators crack down on harmful methane leaks around the world.
In the fight against global warming, methane has flown under the radar for years as activists and scientists focused on curbing carbon dioxide emissions. But this odourless and colorless gas is about 80 times more potent than CO2 in the first two decades after getting released into the atmosphere, and in recent years it has jumped to the top of everyone’s climate to-do list.
President Joe Biden is considering singling out methane for significant reductions as he prepares to unveil an ambitious pledge to cut all greenhouse gasses. China’s five-year plan announced in March included its first-ever pledge to contain the gas. The United Nations and European Commission expect to publicly launch their International Methane Emissions Observatory later this year to speed efforts to tackle this problem around the world.
The need for action became evident earlier this month, when the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the increase in global atmospheric methane concentrations last year was the biggest on record – a sharp contrast to the pandemic-fuelled drop in carbon emissions.
One of the most effective ways to restrict methane is to stop energy companies from releasing it. It’s the primary component of natural gas, and producers have a lot of incentive to do their part – leaks from faulty equipment are both wasted product and a potential source of reputational damage.
For some oil companies, when emissions are a byproduct of the production process, there can be less urgency to contain them.
The big challenge in stopping these emissions, though, starts with identifying them in the first place.
Fortunately, detection devices have come a long way since the days when operators sprayed soap onto pipes or threw a tarp over equipment to check for leaks. Microwave-sized satellites and sensor-equipped cars are among the many innovations that promise a new era of climate transparency.
Satellites have been detecting large methane plumes for years, but until recently the images were no more than a blob spread over a wide area. A breakthrough came in October 2017, when the European Space Agency launched the Sentinel-5 Precursor. This effort enables more-refined images that can help identify the biggest leaks. The ESA also distributes its data for free, fostering a constellation of startups that analyze the output.
There are gaps in current satellite capabilities, such as when clouds are present or when facilities are offshore. Nevertheless, more advances are on the way, with the promise of ever-greater granularity.
Appalachia Spews More Methane Than Permian, Satellite Data Show
The Appalachian Basin spanning Alabama to Maine spewed more methane last year than the oil- and gas-heavy Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico — making the region the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gas in the nation.
Satellites recorded 2.4 million tons of methane emissions in the Appalachian basin in 2020, compared with 2 million tons in the Permian, according to data from Kayrros. Nearly 42% of the Appalachian pollution came from coal mines, while the Permian emissions were tied to oil and natural gas production, the satellite-data company said in a statement.
With methane 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the Appalachian emissions are equal to the annual pollution of around 30 million cars. Emissions fell by 20% in Appalachia and by 26% in the Permian in 2020, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on energy demand, Kayrros said.
Leaking Landfill Contributes To World’s Mystery Methane Hotspot
A landfill in Bangladesh is leaking huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, according to the emissions-tracking company GHGSat Inc.
An April 17 observation from the company’s Hugo satellite shows a methane release originating from the Matuail Sanitary Landfill, said GHGSat President Stephane Germain. The company estimated the emissions rate at about 4,000 kilograms an hour, the planet-warming equivalent of running 190,000 traditional cars. The country’s environment ministry said it’s investigating.
Bangladesh has been a hotspot this year for emissions of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that’s about 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades in the atmosphere. Scientists and government officials are seeking the fastest and most cost-effective ways to curb heat-trapping gases.
“We have for the first time been able to attribute emissions in Bangladesh to a specific source,” Germain said. “This is a large source but is still not sufficient to explain the large, sustained and diffuse emissions detected over the city. The situation remains a mystery and we will continue to monitor the area.”
The Matuail waste site is one of several sources that are probably producing methane plumes over Bangladesh this year, according to Montreal-based GHGSat. The 12 highest methane-emission rates detected this year in satellite data occurred over Bangladesh, according to analytics company Kayrros SAS.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is aware of the situation and has formed a technical committee to assess the extent of the problem, it said in an emailed response to Bloomberg questions.
“The committee is assigned to assess methane emission from Matuail sanitary landfill site” and also to suggest mitigation measures, the ministry said. Its report is due in a month.
The Matuail landfill spreads over 181 acres and accepts about 2,500 tons of waste a day, according to Sufiullah Siddik Bhuiyan, executive engineer of the Waste Management Department of Dhaka South City Corp. While the site has received funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency to help manage liquid waste and greenhouse gases, the landfill doesn’t have data on how much methane gas it generates, Bhuiyan said.
Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane globally. Domesticated livestock, rice cultivation, leaks from the oil and gas industry and landfills are just some of the sources of the emissions, according to the Global Methane Initiative.
Measures included in a 2018 short-lived climate pollutants-reduction plan would cut Bangladesh’s methane emissions up to 17-24% by 2030 and up to 25-36% by 2040, according to the statement from the environment ministry. Bangladesh has also worked with Danish assistance to reduce leaks from gas-pipeline distribution networks, it said.
Observations of methane from space can be seasonal due to cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity, according to Kayrros, which analyzes data from European Space Agency satellites. Offshore emissions and releases in higher latitudes such as the Arctic, where Russia has extensive oil and gas operations, can also be hard to track from space.
Bangladesh, which chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum, whose 48 members represent 1.2 billion people most threatened by climate change, is vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising oceans due to its low elevation and high population density.
Senate Votes To Reverse Trump-Era Loosening of Methane Emission Rules
Lawmakers backed restoring regulations for emissions that leak into the air from oil and gas production.
The Senate voted to restore regulations on methane gas that leaks into the air from U.S. oil and gas production, reversing a Trump-era policy and giving a boost to the Biden administration’s goal of reducing emissions.
In a 52-42 vote Wednesday, the Senate invoked its power under the Congressional Review Act to overturn rules adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency last year on methane-gas emissions, including those easing some monitoring requirements and lowering standards for pollution-control systems to detect methane leaks by facilities that transmit and store natural gas.
Three Republican senators—Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio—voted with Democrats in favor of the legislation.
Methane is a component of natural gas, which has grown in popularity as a fuel. It is transported via pipelines, which can leak the gas. Scientists have determined that methane, while emitted in smaller amounts into the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, is more potent in trapping the earth’s heat.
The oil-and-gas lobby initially fought methane regulations but has recently eased up on that effort. Top producers— Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. , BP PLC—have said they support methane regulations as they face pressure from investors on climate issues.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group and a powerful Washington voice, announced on the first full day of the Biden administration that it supported direct regulation of methane.
Even so, the regulations are likely to frustrate smaller energy companies who have said they have a harder time paying for the cost to comply with tougher monitoring and detection requirements, said Anne Austin, a former EPA official in the Trump administration who is now an energy attorney in private practice.
“Substantial methane regulation is going to be hard-hitting to [smaller energy companies] especially,” Ms. Austin said.
At a congressional committee hearing before the Senate vote, U.S. EPA administrator Michael Regan said his office has been focused on figuring out how to cut methane emissions to meet Mr. Biden’s goal of cutting emissions of planet-warming gases in half by 2030.
At a news conference held before the vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called the move the first “of many important steps to achieve the ambitious goal that Joe Biden has set.”
Other lawmakers characterized the regulation as a quick and easy way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions when big questions still loom over how exactly Mr. Biden’s targets will be met.
“This is not something where we need some fancy technology from 20 years from now,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.) at a news conference held before the vote. “The solution is here now. We know how to plug these leaks.”
The Congressional Review Act invoked by the Senate on Wednesday was used by Republicans during the Trump administration to unwind more than a dozen Obama administration policies. The 1996 law allows Congress to eliminate regulations that have been enacted within 60 legislative days of their completion.
The law’s power lies in its speed, said Richard Revesz, director of New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, who said that restoring methane regulations through the usual rule-making process could take two years and remain suspended for another year if challenged in court.
“You can imagine the whole process of getting this done through the comment-and-rule process could take the majority of Biden’s first term,” Mr. Revesz. “To get it done through the [Congressional Review Act], it can be done this week.”
The Democratic-controlled House hasn’t yet voted to restore the earlier methane regulations, which were introduced by President Barack Obama in 2016. That vote would end the regulatory pause on methane emissions and reinstate controls on transmission of storage segments of the oil-and-gas industry after less than a year.
Large Methane Cloud Detected Over Prolific Canadian Gas Basin
Satellite data is being mined to hunt down hidden sources of pollution. Spotting methane plumes, a potent greenhouse gas, is at the top of the list for many countries.
A cloud of methane was detected by satellite over a natural gas field in Canada, identifying a hidden source of pollution from one of North America’s most prolific production basins.
The emissions rate was estimated at 79 metric tons an hour on April 20, according to geospatial analytics company Kayrros SAS, which found the plume by analyzing European Space Agency data.
If the release lasted an hour it would trap roughly the same amount of heat as more than 300,000 cars driving at 60 miles an hour, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The satellite data didn’t show the duration of the leak.
It’s the most severe methane cloud detected in Canada via the satellite data dating back to 2019, and the third-highest rate of emissions identified in North America this year, according to Kayrros.
It said the gas was spotted at the south end of the Duvernay shale play, which is part of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. Public and private satellite data has also helped spot methane plumes in countries such as Bangladesh and Turkmenistan.
Halting methane emissions from oil and gas fields has jumped to the top of climate to-do lists globally as nations and companies prioritize the most cost-effective ways to cut emissions. Methane is about 84 times more dangerous to the environment than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years in the atmosphere. It’s also the primary component of natural gas, which means preventing leaks gives companies more fuel to sell.
The gas sometimes leaks accidentally from poorly maintained pipelines, but can also be released on purpose to maintain safety and during testing. Some U.S. drillers intentionally vent methane during oil production if they don’t have the resources to bring the gas to market.
The Canada Energy Regulator said companies it regulates don’t have to inform it when they intentionally flare or vent gas because those releases are part of regular operations and maintenance activity. Accidental releases must be disclosed, but the agency said none were reported between April 15 and April 20 within a 50-kilometer radius of the plume.
Facilities that meet the requirements of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program must report annual emissions from all on-site activities that released methane, the ECCC said in an e-mail.
Nova Gas Transmission Ltd., a unit of TC Energy Corp., did notify the Alberta Energy Regulator of five potential dates for planned releases—also known as a blowdowns—in April, May and June, the agency said. TC Energy said it executed a scheduled release on April 20 at its Beiseker compressor station, roughly 33 kilometers south of where Kayrros identified the methane cloud.
In a statement, TC Energy said it reports data on emissions to regulators and in public forums. The company declined to provide an estimate for how much methane may have been released during the blowdown on April 20, though it said it took measures to reduce pollution.
“We cannot confirm if the satellite images you’ve shared are related to this planned event, which was done in accordance within all Canadian regulations,” the company said.
Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane and existing data isn’t yet globally comprehensive. Observations from space can be seasonal due to cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity. Satellites can also have difficulty tracking offshore emissions and releases in higher latitudes.
Cargill Backs Cow Masks To Trap Methane Burps
Food giant Cargill will start selling experimental wearable technology for cows as the cattle and dairy industries pivot to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Tackling methane emissions from livestock is one of the most critical—and most difficult—climate issues for meat and dairy companies that are under increasing pressure to clean up their supply chains. Having access to Cargill’s vast customer network could help Zelp secure demand as it prepares to roll out a product that’s still under development.
“Cargill has an impressive reach across dairy farms in Europe,” said Zelp Chief Executive Officer Francisco Norris. “They are uniquely positioned to distribute our technology to a large number of clients, both farmers and dairy companies, maximizing the roll-out from the very first year we hit the market.”
Some 95% of methane released by cows comes out as burps and through the nose. The gas traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first 25 years in the atmosphere. Zelp’s wearables, placed above cows’ mouths, act a bit like the catalytic converter on a car. A set of fans powered by solar-charged batteries sucks up the burps and traps them in a chamber with a methane-absorbing filter. Once the filter is saturated, a chemical reaction turns the methane into CO₂, which is then released.
Zelp is working on miniaturizing the technology and optimizing the energy inside the device, Norris said. It’s in talks with a number of potential manufacturing partners and aims to be ready for mass production at the end of the year. It aims to produce 50,000 units in the first year and as many as 200,000 units the next. The company is close to completing its next financing round, according to Norris.
Cargill was attracted to the masks because they can be used in combination with other solutions, said Sander van Zijderveld, the company’s ruminant strategic marketing and technology lead for West Europe. Several food suppliers are testing or have begun using feed additives which inhibit microbes in cows’ stomachs to help them produce less methane.
“The nice thing about Zelp is that it could complement a cow that is already receiving feed additives to reduce methane emissions,” he said. “It could still capture the methane that is coming out. We could reduce it even more.”
Cargill expects the wearables to come on sale in the second half of next year after more testing, which will focus on animal behavior and the impact on methane reduction, and could expand the scheme outside Europe if demand is high. Zelp is yet to prove to independent experts that the technology works. Norris said peer-reviewed studies will take place in the fourth quarter after the product has been fully optimized.
Getting cash-strapped farmers to pay for new technologies has been the key challenge, but that’s changing, said van Zijderveld. He thinks incentives will increase, including more dairy processing companies that are willing to pay a premium for milk produced at farms that meet environmental and animal welfare standards. Farmers could also potentially recoup their costs by selling carbon offsets, which other companies can buy to count against their own pollution.
Cargill, based in Minneapolis, aims to cut emissions from its global supply chains by 30% by 2030. In North America, it targets a 30% greenhouse gas reduction in its regional beef supply chain by the end of the decade.
Permian Study Finds Overproduction Leading To More Methane Leaks
Wells in the energy-rich region release three times as much of the potent greenhouse gas as wells in California, according to NASA-led research.
The energy-rich region of the southwestern U.S. known to geologists and fossil fuel enthusiasts as the Permian Basin has expanded its production more quickly than any other oil and gas region in recent years, reaching 38% of U.S. oil and 17% of gas production in 2020. With this scale has come a gush of greenhouse gas emissions, although just how much has until recently been impossible to say.
Between September and November 2019, a team of scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University flew multiple times over the 21,000 square miles of the Permian Basin with airplanes bearing sensors that allowed them to pinpoint “super-emitters” of methane.
About 29% of the total lost gas quantified in flyovers between September and November 2019 came from “routinely persistent” sources, indicating that these leaks could be largely eliminated with repairs and diligent monitoring. The releases represented just 11% of emissions sites from a total of 1,100 unique sources studied.
While carbon dioxide is a bigger driver of global warming and lasts longer in the atmosphere, methane—the main component of natural gas—traps more than 80 times as much heat over a 20-year period. Halting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry has jumped to the top of climate to-do lists in part because policy analysts have identified it as one of the cheapest and easiest ways to hold down global temperatures.
Leak detection—which for decades relied on techniques like spraying soap onto pipes or throwing a tarp over equipment to check for fugitive gas flows—is finally entering the digital age, with satellites, drones, and other aircraft promising a new era of climate transparency. By conducting multiple flights at altitudes of 2 miles and 5 miles, NASA scientists were able to document whether the methane emitted from each site was continuous or episodic.
Knowing how long each event went on helped them estimate which part of the oil-and-gas production process the methane escaped from. Half the emissions came from production facilities, including the wells sites themselves and tanks associated with them. Another 38% came from pipelines and gas compression infrastructure, and 12% from processing plants.
The 1,100 sites where the scientists detected emissions make up about 1.4% of the area’s production facilities. By contrast, only about 0.2% of facilities in California were found to be the source of methane plumes. Emissions persist for about the same amount of time in each area, the authors write, but they found more of them in the Permian basin, emitting three times more methane than those in California.
Midstream operations in the Permian, according to the new data, make up about 20% more of the basin’s overall methane total than was expected from previous studies. That result is consistent with the researchers’ hypothesis that high production rates were causing bottlenecks farther down the supply chain, leading to more venting and incomplete flaring.
Flaring—the practice of burning off gas so that it enters the atmosphere as CO₂ not CH₄—can occur at several points in production and may not reduce emissions from the Permian as much as previously thought. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that flaring typically cuts methane by 98%, a number that’s not supported by this study, nor by studies of other regions.
The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund has incorporated the NASA and University of Arizona data into its Permian Methane Analysis Project, tagging each oil-and-gas site by company.
Meanwhile Ceres, a nonprofit that promotes capital markets as critical to cleaning up energy, and Clean Air Task Force, a policy research nonprofit, also this week published a report and data explorer documenting and comparing the emissions of nearly 300 of the top U.S. oil-and-gas producers who report data to the Environmental Protection Agency.
They found that small companies who make up 9% of production are responsible for 22% of the sector’s emissions. At the other end of the scale, the biggest seven producers make up a quarter of all emissions.
The airplane survey research was funded by NASA, the University of Arizona, the High Tide Foundation, and Carbon Mapper Inc., a nonprofit that has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.
Huge Methane Leak Spotted By Satellite Came From Gazprom Pipeline
The Russian energy giant was also responsible for four other recent releases of the superpotent greenhouse gas.
A massive methane plume detected earlier this month over Russia stemmed from emergency repairs that forced the partial shutdown of a Gazprom PJSC pipeline, the company said, taking responsibility for one of the energy sector’s most intense recent leaks of the superpotent greenhouse gas.
Gazprom’s enormous methane leak, first identified in satellite data by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS, points to what’s a worldwide problem preventing the release of a greenhouse gas with 80 times the impact of carbon dioxide in the short term.
The Russian gas giant said its pipeline repairs on June 4 released 2.7 million cubic meters (1,830 metric tons) of methane. That has roughly the same short term planet-warming impact of 40,000 internal-combustion cars in the U.S. driving for a year, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
Kayrros estimated an emissions rate of 395 metric tons an hour, which would make Gazprom responsible for the most severe release it has attributed to the oil and gas sector since September 2019.
Gazprom said the gas was released after it detected a problem with its Urengoy-Center 1 pipeline in Russia’s Tatarstan region. The company said that “given the urgency” it wasn’t able to use a mobile compressor station to reduce the methane released by the repairs, though it claimed to still have cut 22% of potential emissions.
The June plume was equal to just 0.1% of the company’s total pollution in 2019, according to analysts at Moscow-based VTB Capital. “The situation might be quite negative for sentiment on Gazprom’s shares,” they said in a note on Friday, even though the leak was unlikely to impact its finances or operations.
Russia’s largest gas company is under pressure to do more to lower the methane emissions caused by its operations as countries in Europe — its biggest market — more closely scrutinize the climate impact of the fuel used to heat their homes and power their grids. The large amounts of methane caused by Russian gas come as the European Union seeks to meet a target of net-zero emissions by mid-century.
The leak this month from Gazprom’s pipeline in Tatarstan isn’t the only major methane release traced to the Russian company. Kayrros detected another giant methane plume on May 24 with an estimated emissions rate of 214 metric tons an hour.
Gazprom said this leak resulted from two days of planned maintenance on the Urengoy-Petrovsk pipeline in Russia’s Bashkortostan region. The emissions amounted to about 900,000 cubic meters, it said, which the company described as “in line with the industrial safety regulations.”
Until the June 4 release, that earlier May 24 leak had ranked as the most severe this year detected by Kayrros in public satellite data and that it attributed to the oil and gas sector.
Gazprom also confirmed it was responsible for three more methane releases that have been spotted in Russia this month. The company said that in all cases it sought to use some of the gas, emissions didn’t exceed government-regulated standards and the events would be included in its environmental reports.
Multiple studies have found methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are often higher than what operators and governments report. Releases of the odorless, colorless gas from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain in 2015 were about 60% higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate, a 2018 study published in Science found.
Kayrros is one of several companies that monitor satellite data for methane clouds. The ESA data it uses are obtained by the agency’s Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite, which orbits the globe about 14 times a day to produce a rough snapshot of the world’s methane hot spots. Since wind and other atmospheric conditions can affect plumes, Kayrros uses atmospheric dispersion modeling to estimate the emissions rate and each plume’s source location.
Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane and existing data isn’t yet globally comprehensive. Public and private satellite data have helped spot methane plumes in countries including Canada, Bangladesh and Turkmenistan.
Still, observations from space can be seasonal due to cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity. Satellites can also have difficulty tracking offshore emissions and releases in higher latitudes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited methane’s contribution to global warming in an April speech and said it’s “extremely important to develop broad and effective international cooperation in the calculation and monitoring of all polluting emissions into the atmosphere.”
Asked about the May 24 incident, the regional ministry of environmental management and ecology said it didn’t register any man-made damage in the area during that period.
Huge Methane Leak Spotted In Heart Of China’s Top Coal Hub
The plume is one of the largest so far attributed to global coal industry. Leaks detected by satellite have also been spotted in Canada, Russia and South Africa.
A massive plume of methane, the potent greenhouse gas that’s a key contributor to global warming, has been identified in China’s biggest coal production region.
The release in northeast Shanxi province is one of the largest that geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS has so far attributed to the global coal sector and likely emanated from multiple mining operations.
Details captured in European Space Agency satellite data show the plume about 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Shanxi’s capital Taiyuan, in Yangquan City. The area has 34 coals mines, according to the Shanxi Energy Bureau.
Shanxi’s Department of Ecology and Environmental, the province’s Energy Bureau and China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment didn’t respond to requests for comment. The National Development and Reform Commission didn’t respond to a fax.
The emissions rate needed to produce the plume observed in the June 18 satellite image would be several hundred metric tons an hour, according to Kayrros. For comparison, a 200-ton per hour release would have roughly an equivalent climate warming in the first two decades as 800,000 cars driving at 60 miles an hour, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
China is both the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. The industry presents the nation’s biggest opportunity to mitigate methane emissions, according to a United Nations assessment. In March, China’s latest five-year plan included, for the first time, a pledge to contain the gas that traps roughly 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the initial 20 years after it is released.
President Xi Jinping has outlined an ambition for the country to start reducing coal use from 2026 on its way to a broader goal to peak greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters during a regular press briefing on Monday he wasn’t aware of the release and said the country is committed to low-carbon development.
Efforts to curtail coal use to have largely focused on the large amount of CO₂ generated when it’s burned. But mining the fuel is also problematic, because producers frequently release methane trapped in underground operations to lower the risk of explosion.
“Many existing coal mines are under poor management” in China, said Li Shuo, a climate analyst at Greenpeace East Asia. “There is much catching up to do to better monitor the sources and scale of methane emissions.”
Methane can continue leaking long after mines have been closed or abandoned, and the industry is expected to account for about 10% of man-made emissions of the gas by the end of the decade, according to the Global Methane Initiative.
To achieve its 2060 carbon neutral goals, China should create an investment and financing system that tackles methane reductions, the Environmental Defense Fund said in a report. It can also make sense for miners themselves to take extra steps to capture methane emissions, as the gas can be used for power generation, coal drying or as supplemental fuel, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The analysis of the Shanxi plume follows earlier work to identify methane releases in countries including Russia and South Africa, as scientists begin to pinpoint the biggest sources of the emissions. Existing data isn’t yet globally comprehensive, and satellite observations can be impacted by cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity. Satellites can also have difficulty tracking offshore emissions and releases in higher latitudes.
Plumes of Potent Methane Gas Spotted Near Australia Coal Mines
The country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Potent methane plumes have been detected in a key coal mining district in Australia, one of the world’s biggest exporters of the commodity, underscoring the fossil fuel’s role in exacerbating climate change.
Clouds of the invisible greenhouse gas, which is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth in its first couple decades in the atmosphere, were spotted near multiple mines last month, an analysis of European Space Agency satellite data by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS showed.
Two large clouds of methane were spotted over the Bowen Basin on June 21, and were visible across more than 30 kilometers each. While Kayrros attributes the clouds to the coal sector, the plumes were diffused and could have come from multiple sources.
The leaking of methane into the atmosphere has come under increasing scrutiny as awareness grows over their harmful global warming effects. Scientists view reducing emissions from the fossil fuel industry as one of the cheapest and easiest ways to hold down temperatures in the near term, especially as improving technology makes it easier to identify polluters.
Efforts to curtail coal use have largely focused on the large amount of CO₂ generated when it’s burned, but mining the fuel is also problematic because producers can release methane trapped in underground operations to lower the risk of explosion. The coal sector is forecast to account for about 10% of man-made emissions of the gas by the end of the decade, according to the Global Methane Initiative.
The Bowen Basin is a key producing region for Australia, the world’s top exporter of metallurgical coal used in steel-making. For every ton of coal produced in the region, an average 7.5 kilograms of methane is released, according to Kayrros. That’s 47% higher than the global average in 2018, the geoanalytics company said, citing International Energy Agency data.
When contacted about the larger of the two plumes, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said it didn’t receive notice of methane releases in the two days through June 21. Coal mining companies have reporting obligations under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme that is regulated by the federal government, the department said.
Huge Methane Cloud Spotted Near Gas Pipeline That Supplies China
The emissions match the planet-warming impact of 10,000 cars driving in the U.K. for a year.
A massive methane plume detected last month over Kazakhstan occurred near a major pipeline that supplies natural gas to China.
The cloud was observed roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the largest Kazakh city of Almaty on July 24, and had an emissions rate of more than 200 tons of methane an hour, according to an estimate from geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS. That amount of the super-warming greenhouse gas would have roughly the same short-term climate warming impact as the annual emissions of 10,000 cars in the UK.
“This large emission event matches the pattern of methane release observed from gas infrastructure,” said a spokesperson for Kayrros. “A pipeline and compressors are in close proximity, and based on information Kayrros has access to there are no other candidates for the observed release.”
KazTransGas JSC, which operates the Kazakh portion of the Central Asia-China pipeline, said it didn’t have any leaks and the country’s energy ministry didn’t immediately provide a response to queries about the plume. The 1,833-kilometer pipeline helps transport gas mostly from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to China.
Satellite detection of methane plumes from natural gas have revealed a greater climate impact from the fossil fuel long promoted by producers as a bridge to renewables as the world decarbonizes. Beijing plans to boost imports of gas from Turkmenistan, the South China Morning Post reported in May.
Methane is the largest component of natural gas, and it is the second-largest contributor to warming the planet after carbon dioxide. Levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere are rising fast, partly because of increase in oil and gas activity globally. A steep reduction in methane emissions is considered one of the cheapest and easiest ways to slow the increase in global temperatures.
Kayrros couldn’t say how long the release lasted because the analysis was based off a single satellite observation captured by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite as it passed over Kazakhstan that day in July.
Multiple studies show that methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure are often higher than what operators and governments report. Public and private satellite data are helping spot methane plumes in countries including Russia, Canada and Australia.
Frackers, Shippers Eye Natural-Gas Leaks As Climate Change Concerns Mount
Cheniere Energy, EQT among those dispatching drones, planes and specialized cameras to collect data amid international pressure from buyers.
Drones darted in patterns above natural-gas wells in the hills of southwest Pennsylvania, as workers atop water tanks pointed specialized cameras, and a helicopter outfitted with a laser-light detection system swooped in low. All searched for an invisible enemy: methane.
The American gas industry faces growing pressure from investors and customers to prove that its fuel has a lower-carbon provenance to sell it around the world. That has led the top U.S. gas producer, EQT Corp., and the top exporter, Cheniere Energy Inc., to team up and track the emissions from wells that feed major shipping terminals.
The companies are trying to collect reliable data on releases of methane—a potent greenhouse gas increasingly attracting scrutiny for its contributions to climate change—and demonstrate they can reduce these emissions over time.
“What we’re trying to really do is build the trust up to the end user that our measurements are correct,” said David Khani, EQT’s chief financial officer. “Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”
Natural gas has boomed world-wide over the past few decades as countries moved to supplant dirtier fossil fuels such as coal and oil. It has long been touted as a bridge to a lower-carbon future. But while gas burns cleaner than coal, gas operations leak methane, which has a more potent effect on atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide, though it makes up a smaller percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Investors, policy makers and buyers of liquefied natural gas, known as LNG, are rethinking the fuel’s role in their energy mix because of concerns about methane emissions, which were highlighted this week as a significant contributor to climate change by a scientific panel working under the auspices of the United Nations.
Those concerns, pronounced in Europe and increasingly in Asia, are a problem for LNG shippers, as some of their customers signal plans to ease gas consumption over time. In a policy draft last month, Japanese regulators said the country would have LNG make up 20% of its projected power generation by 2030, down from a prior target of 27%.
The European Union has been weighing how to pressure LNG shippers to cut emissions. It could, for example, include LNG among the imports subject to a recently proposed carbon border tax.
Nearly every industry now faces some pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, as investors focus more on ESG—or environmental, social and governance—issues and push companies for trustworthy emissions data. But the pressure has become particularly acute for oil-and-gas companies, whose main products contribute directly to climate change.
Producing, transporting and ultimately burning one metric ton of LNG releases the greenhouse gas equivalent of about 3.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to a U.K. government estimate, about a quarter of which are emitted before the fuel reaches a power plant.
Though the world is now devouring natural gas as economies emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, shale executives said keeping U.S. supplies competitive longer-term will require companies to corral leaks from wells, processing facilities, pipelines and the export plants before tankers carry it around the world. The tricky part, they said, is proving to skeptics they are actually doing so.
Cheniere, the largest U.S. LNG exporter, this summer began leading a joint effort with EQT, the largest gas producer, and four other domestic producers including Pioneer Natural Resources Co. , to figure out the most effective way to monitor and quantify methane emissions.
Over six months, the companies and researchers plan to test drones, specialized cameras that can see methane gas, and other technologies across about 100 wells in the Marcellus Shale in the northeast U.S., the Haynesville Shale of East Texas and Louisiana, and the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico.
The goal is to collect methane emissions data and see how it stacks up against current estimates from U.S. environmental regulators, which critics consider overly conservative as their underlying data isn’t based on continuous measurements. The companies will then decide which technology is the most effective when deployed on a larger scale for continuous monitoring of methane leaks, and which ways to best cut emissions.
EQT has said it would spend $20 million over the next few years to replace leaky pneumatic devices, which help move fluids from wells to production facilities and water tanks, with electric-drive valves, executives said. They expect that will cut about 80% of the company’s methane emissions. The company also began exclusively using electric-powered hydraulic fracturing equipment last year.
Cheniere delivered what it called its first carbon-neutral cargo to Royal Dutch Shell PLC in Europe in April, by purchasing carbon offsets from Shell. It also plans to provide customers next year with data on emissions tied to each shipment it sends from its two Gulf Coast export facilities. That data, contained in Cheniere’s so-called cargo emissions tags, will be based on its analysis of emissions from its supply chain.
The LNG shipper expects its analysis will show a range of emissions from gas producers, pipelines and exporters, but that emissions from the gas it gathers will be comparatively low, said Anatol Feygin, Cheniere’s chief commercial officer.
Mr. Feygin said the U.S. gas industry hasn’t “done a good job of getting the transparent, auditable information” it needs to back up its claim that it has been curbing emissions, and that collecting that data will be critical for the industry’s social license to operate going forward. Cheniere hasn’t yet announced any partnerships with pipeline companies that transport gas, another area where it said its efforts will need more work.
“It’s going to take a very long time to migrate the entire supply chain,” Mr. Feygin said, describing the ultimate goal as “high-quality, real-time information.”
Large Methane Cloud In Iraq Coincided With Gas Pipeline Leak
The country is a top oil producer and was one of the biggest emitters of methane last year, according to the IEA.
A pipeline run by Oil Pipelines Co. in Iraq leaked liquefied petroleum gas on July 20, close to where a large plume of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane was detected.
The accident lasted less than a few hours and didn’t release any methane, according to an official with the state-run company who confirmed the leak. Liquefied petroleum gas is largely made up of propane and butane, but often also contains small amounts of methane and ethane. It is shipped as a liquid in pipelines and turns into gas at normal atmospheric temperature and pressure.
The cloud of methane was detected by Kayrros SAS, a Paris-based geoanalytics firm that parses European Space Agency satellite data to track down emissions. It occurred roughly 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Basrah. Kayrros estimated the release happened at a rate of 73 tons of methane an hour; it can’t determine the duration of a release based on a single satellite observation.
Iraq is one of the world’s top oil producers and was the fifth-biggest emitter of methane last year among a selected group of its peers, according to the International Energy Agency.
The greenhouse gas is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth in its first couple decades if released directly into the atmosphere. Stopping leaks is one of the most significant things that can be done right now to slow global warming that’s already reached dangerous levels.
Oil Pipelines Co.’s protocol when a leak occurs is to shut the pipeline down and immediately fix it, the official said. The July plume followed two other methane observations in Iraq on June 23 and June 24, located about halfway between Basrah and Baghdad, with estimated emissions rates of 181 and 197 tons of methane an hour, respectively.
That two plumes were found at the same spot over consecutive days suggests they were part of a single event that lasted 24 hours or longer, according to Kayrros.
If the release lasted 24 hours at 180 tons of methane an hour, it would have the same planet-warming impact as the average annual emissions of more than 200,000 cars in the U.K. Other than Oil Pipelines Co., Thiqar Oil Co. is the only other major company that owns Iraq’s fossil-fuel infrastructure in that area.
It said the releases weren’t from its operations. An official for Iraq’s oil ministry said releases can occur from pipelines because of corrosion, as well as illegal tapping by unauthorized parties.
Satellite detection of methane plumes from natural gas supply chains has revealed a greater climate impact than previously thought from the fossil fuel long promoted by producers as a bridge to renewables. A steep reduction in methane emissions is considered one of the cheapest and easiest ways to slow the increase in global temperatures, according the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published earlier this month.
Multiple studies show that methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure are often higher than what operators and governments report. Previous Bloomberg Green reporting on methane plumes based on Kayrros data has led to public acknowledgement of releases from Kazakhstan and Russia. Public and private satellite data are helping spot methane plumes in countries including Canada and Australia.
The Methane Hunters
Frackers in America’s largest oil field are letting massive amounts of natural gas spill into the atmosphere. Scientists and activists are trying to find the leaks and get them plugged before they cook the planet further.
Five hundred miles above the Earth’s surface, the Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor, a satellite about the size of a pickup truck, has been circling the planet for four years, taking pictures of the atmosphere below. The satellite’s infrared sensor can see things humans can’t, and in 2019, Yuzhong Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, got a look at some of its first readings.
Zhang was interested in methane, an invisible, odorless gas. Although carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of global warming, methane has many times carbon’s warming power and is thought to be responsible for about a quarter of the increase in global temperatures caused by humans.
When Zhang laid the satellite readings over a map of the U.S., the biggest concentration of the gas showed up as a red splotch over a 150-mile-wide swath of Texas and New Mexico.
The postdoc loaded the readings into a supercomputer to calculate what it would take to form that pattern.
A few days later he had an answer. Beneath the splotch, Zhang discovered, 2.9 million metric tons of methane were pouring into the sky each year. By one measure, that cloud of gas is contributing as much to global warming as Florida—every power plant, motorboat, and minivan in the state.
Zhang, now at Westlake University in Hangzhou, China, calls it the “Permian methane anomaly.” The anomaly lies directly atop the Permian Basin, one of the most bountiful oil-producing regions in the world. Wells there churn out less-profitable natural gas alongside petroleum, and natural gas is mostly methane.
Zhang’s research demonstrated that a surprising amount of that gas, more than twice what the U.S. government has estimated, is just spilling into the air unburned. Imagine that someone turned all the knobs on a stove without lighting a flame. Now imagine 400,000 stoves scattered across the Southwest, hissing day and night, cooking nothing but the planet itself.
Identifying and plugging these leaks could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. Unlike carbon, methane breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere. That means efforts to curtail it can pay off within a generation.
According to one recent estimate, almost one-third of the warming expected in the next few decades could be avoided by reducing human-caused methane emissions, without having to invent new technology or cut consumption.
Some of that would come from cleaning up other sources, such as landfills and cattle feedlots. (Cow burps are full of methane.) But oil and gas fields are the most obvious places to start, because they offer the biggest potential reductions at the cheapest cost.
Only in the past few years has the urgency of the methane problem come into focus, partly because of new technology and scientific research that’s uncovering leaks from pipelines in Russia to old wells in West Virginia.
The latest assessment, published on Aug. 9 by United Nations-backed scientists, says “strong, rapid, and sustained reductions” in these emissions are key to meeting climate goals. In the U.S., regulation hasn’t kept up. In many cases, energy producers and pipeline operators are free to spew methane into the air without running afoul of any law.
In lieu of regulation, nonprofit groups and activists are acting as self-appointed private eyes, running their own Permian monitoring programs and pressuring companies directly. Gas markets are responding, too.
Last year a $7 billion contract to send Permian liquefied natural gas to France collapsed over concerns about the greenhouse gas footprint. Lenders and investors are also pushing for action. Now oil companies are launching their own drones, airplanes, and satellites in the service of mostly voluntary efforts to find the spills and stop them.
It’s unclear how far private and voluntary actions will go. One obstacle is the sheer size of the Permian, a sparsely populated scrubland where spills from open hatches, equipment malfunctions, and the like can continue for days before anyone notices. Another is the jumble of companies and wells.
Even the Sentinel-5P’s powerful sensor has trouble identifying individual leaks. Spills are so large and numerous that, seen from space, they merge into one indistinguishable mass.
Up close, the Permian is flat and dry. Cows wander across lonely plains of mesquite, and rusting pump jacks dot the horizon. Wildcatters have been chasing oil here for a century, but nothing in the past compares to the frenzy that gripped the region about six years ago.
Advances in extraction techniques, including horizontal drilling and fracking, had opened up reserves in previously inaccessible shale rock, helping to drive down global energy prices. That set off a hunt for prospects that could be profitable even if oil stayed cheap, and the Permian’s unusual geology stood out.
Meanwhile, Congress ended a longtime ban on oil exports, benefiting basins that produce light sweet crude, which foreign refineries are better-equipped to handle. Money poured in from oil majors and private equity funds. More than half the nation’s drill rigs were mobilized. Drilling rights neared $100,000 an acre, and hotels in Midland, Texas, the commercial hub of the oil patch, started charging Manhattan prices.
The landscape was transformed. Clusters of cylindrical oil tanks appeared everywhere, along with rectangular ponds as big as football fields holding the water needed for fracking. Camps for thousands of itinerant workers were laid out with military precision.
A few days after the ban was lifted, on Christmas Eve 2015, drillers broke ground on a new well whose story is a microcosm of the Permian. State Pacific 55-T2-8X17, as the site is known, sits on a stretch of rangeland near the Pecos River in Texas’ Loving County (population 169). Two months later, it was complete: a wellhead and six storage tanks squatting on a rectangle of bare earth.
The money behind State Pacific came from BHP Group, an Australian mining colossus that spent big to drill faster than rivals. State Pacific alone brought forth 166,000 barrels of oil and other hydrocarbon liquids in its first year, as well as 620 million cubic feet of gas.
As companies such as BHP started chasing Permian crude, there wasn’t much of a plan for the gas that came up with it. Gas is difficult to store, and getting it to market requires a complex system of pipelines, compressors, and cryogenic processing plants. In the most lucrative parts of the field, including Loving County, that infrastructure was inadequate or nonexistent.
With gas fetching so little that the price sometimes went negative, companies could save money by just burning it off rather than waiting for pipelines to be built. Across the region, hundreds of flares began to light up the sky each night. From space, the desert looked as bright as Albuquerque.
Even when producers could hook up to a pipeline, these lines were often congested and prone to interruptions. At BHP wells such as State Pacific, the problems were compounded by frequent breakdowns of the diesel compressors required to push gas into pipelines at about 1,000 pounds per square inch.
The machines tended to fail if the temperature or system pressure rose too high. Since the sites were unmanned, outages would stretch for days. According to readings from a U.S. satellite that can spot individual flares at night, BHP burned gas frequently at State Pacific during its first three years in operation, torching off at least one-fourth of the gas produced.
Theoretically, flaring shouldn’t contribute much to the methane problem, because burning methane converts it to carbon dioxide—still a greenhouse gas, but a far less potent one. Of course, that’s only true if the flare works as intended.
Long before Zhang tallied the scale of the damage in the Permian, Sharon Wilson, an activist from Dallas, was driving across Texas with a $100,000 camera, hunting for leaks. Wilson works for the environmental advocacy group Earthworks, and her hardware makes methane show up inky black in photos.
If a satellite offers a godlike view of the region, Wilson can track individual plumes right to the source. In May, during one of her regular trips to West Texas, she was in the back of a rented GMC Yukon as an Earthworks colleague steered down a highway past freshly plowed cotton fields. In her lap, the camera, a FLIR GF320, was whirring softly, the sound of a cooling mechanism that keeps its guts colder than dry ice.
“Your faucet drips, that’s a leak,” Wilson said, her graying blond hair tucked under a baseball cap. “I hardly ever see a leak out here. I see a garden hose. A fire hose. A volcano.”
After each trip, Wilson uploads the most dramatic pictures to YouTube and emails them to state regulators—methane clouds pouring from broken valves, malfunctioning engines, and open hatches—hoping to pressure companies and government officials to clean things up.
Wilson, 68, didn’t think much about the environment when she worked for an oil marketing company. That changed, she says, when she lived in the prairie country north of Fort Worth and saw fracking ruin the place. Now she calls company executives “gasholes” on Twitter and enjoys recounting stories of her run-ins with hostile oilfield workers, whom she always nicknames Jethro.
Some of the most common culprits Wilson has found are flare stacks. These are tall pipes crowned with burners designed to torch off unwanted gas. Wilson says they frequently malfunction—the flames go out, allowing a stream of invisible gas to jet into the air. To the naked eye, it’s impossible to tell anything’s amiss.
David Lyon had seen Wilson’s videos of misbehaving flare stacks, but he wasn’t sure what to make of them. Lyon, an Arkansas native, is the lead scientist for a massive Environmental Defense Fund research project in the Permian charting the pollution in unprecedented detail. Do flares really get snuffed out all that often, he wondered? He dispatched a contractor to fly over hundreds of randomly selected flare stacks in a helicopter to find out.
State Pacific was one of the first sites on the list. One sunny February day in 2020, the 20-foot-tall flare stack on the south end of the facility looked inert, with no flame visible. When the contractor pointed at it an infrared camera like the one Wilson uses, he saw a huge plume of black gas spewing from the stack and drifting off into the distance.
State Pacific wasn’t the only one. Lyon found that 5% of stacks with gas flowing through them were unlit, and an additional 6% were only partially burning. If those rates are typical of the entire Permian, Lyon estimates, that alone could explain the origin of 300,000 metric tons of methane a year. “I’ll admit I was skeptical,” he says. “But then we get out there and see, yeah, it actually is that bad.”
Lyon’s work is the latest chapter in EDF’s decade-long effort to unlock the secrets of methane. In 2011, Steven Hamburg, the group’s chief scientist, took note of how cheap, abundant shale gas was reshaping the country’s energy mix, overtaking coal as the workhorse of the electric power industry.
Since burning gas produces about half the carbon dioxide of burning coal, carbon emissions in the U.S. were dropping for the first time in a generation. That seemed, at first glance, like a lucky break for the environment.
But Hamburg wondered how much of that progress was an illusion. Release a ton of methane today, and over the next two decades it will warm the planet as much as about 80 tons of carbon. Only a small fraction of natural gas would have to spill from wellheads, plants, and pipelines to make it worse for the planet than coal, especially in the short term.
Hamburg quizzed industry and government experts: How much was leaking? He concluded that no one really knew and that official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates were little more than guesses. So in 2012, EDF undertook the biggest research project in its history. If the government wouldn’t figure out how much methane is leaking, Hamburg reasoned, let’s do it for them.
Six years, $18 million, and several dozen peer-reviewed papers later, Hamburg had his answer: The U.S. oil and gas industry was losing about 13 million metric tons a year, or 2.3% of gas production—60% more than the EPA was estimating. (The EPA has acknowledged that studies such as EDF’s can reveal flaws in its estimates, but it hasn’t yet adopted the group’s numbers.)
That rate erases most of natural gas’s climate advantage over coal, especially in the short term, and highlights the urgency of getting methane under control. The bigger the leak, the bigger the payoff for plugging it.
With Lyon’s Permian Methane Analysis Project, EDF is moving beyond just counting molecules. The goal is to reveal whose equipment is leaking, and how much, and publish the findings to compel companies and regulators to take action.
University researchers and contractors do the fieldwork, with sensor-laden vans and airplanes carrying methane detectors and stationary monitors mounted on mobile-phone towers. Think of the project as a thousand Sharon Wilsons, armed with the scientific method and more money.
“I HARDLY EVER SEE A LEAK OUT HERE. I SEE A GARDEN HOSE. A FIRE HOSE. A VOLCANO”
Lyon found his biggest spill last September. An airplane working for EDF picked up a large concentration of methane near a gas compression station south of Midland and circled back for a look. It found a huge cloud of gas jetting from a tank. EDF later calculated the size of the release at 12 tons of methane per hour. That’s about the same climate impact you would create if you started up every car in the state of Maine and left them all idling.
The plant’s owner, Targa Resources Corp., declined to comment to Bloomberg Businessweek, but it told state officials in an email that a wiring problem had caused one of the plant’s compressors to shut down. Pressure built up to dangerous levels, triggering a safety valve to release the gas.
The company called it “not a foreseeable or avoidable occurrence” and said such mishaps are not uncommon across the Permian because pipelines are frequently running at capacity.
Given the scale of the Permian, the thousands of wells, tanks, flares, hatches, separators, compressors, and plants in use, unforeseeable and unavoidable things are happening all the time. “Things won’t work like they’re supposed to work on paper,” Lyon says. “It takes sometimes a while for people to realize that.
There may even be disincentives for them to work. If they get bonuses based on how much oil they pump, then yeah, they’re incentivized to go as fast as possible and not worry about emissions.”
The contractor who found Lyon’s unlit flares is a 66-year-old former oilman named David Furry. Years ago, he pioneered the use of infrared cameras to find gas leaks, and he runs a small detection business catering mostly to oil and gas companies. Furry doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist, but he’s realistic about the scale of the pollution he’s documented. He estimates that about 1 in 5 sites he checks has some kind of emission.
One afternoon in May, in his office behind a shuttered gun shop in Early, Texas, Furry tucked a wad of Copenhagen Long Cut tobacco behind his lip and reflected on the future of the Permian. He’d recently gotten a call from a gas exporter wondering how much it would cost to check suppliers’ wells for leaks. That way the exporter could market “low-emissions” gas, akin to a fair-trade label on coffee.
“I was raised out there,” Furry said. “And you know, in the old days, when you had an oil spill, you’d throw a little dirt over it. Cover it up. Nowadays, things are different. But the thing about emissions is people can’t see ’em. They’re not thinking about emissions.” Furry tapped a finger to his temple. “The industry as a whole is going to have to be retrained to think emissions. And some are already starting. But not all.”
BP Plc, the former British Petroleum, has long positioned itself as more climate-conscious than its rivals, and it’s been at pains to improve its image in the U.S. since it caused a gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. BP acquired BHP’s assets in the Permian in 2018.
When it assumed control the following year, the wells were flaring about 16% of the gas they produced, one of the highest rates in the basin. “We asked ourselves one question,” said David Lawler, the head of BP’s U.S. operations, in a blog post in April. “How can we do this differently?”
Some changes came right away. BP began disclosing its flaring activity at State Pacific to the state and sought permits to flare there and at dozens of other wells—steps that BHP, like many operators in Texas, hadn’t bothered with. BHP said in a statement that it strove to limit flaring and emissions in the Permian and that it “sought appropriate permits.”
At the same time, BP began re-plumbing the operation to eliminate the need to flare. Rather than rely on those touchy machines at each well site, it started building centralized compression stations with more reliable electric motors.
BP estimates that the project will cost more than $1 billion and will eventually pay for itself through the sale of gas that would otherwise be wasted. The effort has already reduced its flaring in the basin to less than 2% of production. In his blog post, Lawler said BP would end routine flaring at onshore U.S. operations completely by 2025.
Last October the company began installing devices across its Permian facilities that alert off-site employees if a flare isn’t working properly, according to Megan Baldino, a spokesperson. Such a device went in at State Pacific late last year.
While BP’s efforts in the Permian may be the most high-profile, almost every company of any size is announcing a plan to lower emissions and cut flaring. Some have renounced the practice of bringing wells online before a gas-gathering pipeline is in place and are rolling out costly monitoring programs. After testing eight technologies, Exxon Mobil Corp. said this year that it’s hiring a company that shoots lasers from an airplane to spot methane leaks.
In another era, oil producers could have safely ignored environmental critics such as Wilson and Lyon. But just a few months after the French gas deal was canceled, something even more shocking hit executive boardrooms: Exxon’s shareholders voted to replace three board members, handing a victory to critics who said the company wasn’t doing enough to prepare for a low-carbon future. Lyon talks frequently to Wall Street investors. They always ask the same question these days, he says: Who has their emissions under control, and who doesn’t?
Lyon’s answer is usually some version of “it depends.” He says the mess in the Permian can’t be blamed on a few bad actors, and for all the money EDF has spent there, it still doesn’t have a comprehensive picture. But one is coming into focus.
A few weeks ago, Lyon dispatched an airplane with even fancier gear, a NASA-designed instrument that can snap pictures of methane plumes over a broad swath of the region with enough precision to identify the source. In 2022, EDF will launch its own $88 million satellite, capable of peering into oil fields around the world with hundreds of times the resolution of the Sentinel-5P.
Regulation is starting to catch up, though unevenly. While Texas hasn’t taken significant action on either flaring or methane, the New Mexico Environment Department, after consultation with EDF, is phasing in limits on both. A federal methane rule, which applied to a limited number of oil facilities, was restored this year after being gutted by the Trump administration. Now the EPA is crafting a rule that would apply to more wells.
Wilson has heard the companies’ promises, and she doesn’t buy them. She met Lyon once, at a congressional hearing in New Mexico in 2019 after he testified about how oil producers could tackle methane with frequent inspections and better equipment. “Incremental changes and all that,” she says. “I was like, ‘David, David. That shit doesn’t work. It does not work.’ ”
“AS LONG AS OIL AND GAS KEEPS EXPANDING, METHANE AND CO2 IS GOING TO GO HIGHER”
Oil companies have been promising to clean up their act for decades, she says, and in that time they just drilled more and polluted more. The only way to clean up the Permian, she says, is to stop drilling. “As long as oil and gas keeps expanding, methane and CO2 is going to go higher.”
Even taking the company pledges at face value, it’s hard to know how long they’ll last. Right now, producers are retrenching after years of frenzied drilling ended in a Covid-fueled slump. In this go-slow environment, it’s not so much of a sacrifice to try to end flaring or cut emissions.
The question is what the industry will do when the next boom gets going, in the Permian or somewhere else, and there’s money to be made by moving fast. And while Wall Street is forcing large, publicly traded companies to take action on emissions, many private operators are still doing whatever they please. Some of the majors have found themselves in the curious position of calling for more aggressive regulation so their voluntary pledges don’t put them at a disadvantage.
In May, Lyon’s team published the latest findings from that network of sensors installed on mobile-phone towers throughout the basin. Methane emissions plunged in April 2020 as the pandemic put the world economy on ice. But by the end of last summer, levels were already as high as they were when the year began. The stoves in the desert had switched back on.
White House Edges Near Biofuel Plan In Farm-Versus-Oil Clash
The Environmental Protection Agency is set to send a draft of biofuel-blending quotas to the White House for review as soon as Friday afternoon, marking a key step in the Biden administration’s bid to balance competing oil and agricultural interests.
EPA officials have advised lawmakers and industry stakeholders that White House review of the plan is imminent, setting the stage for the agency to formally propose how much renewable fuel must be mixed into gasoline and diesel in 2021 and 2022 within weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. The people asked not to be named discussing the deliberations.
Some lawmakers have been told to expect relatively unchanged requirements — and even a slight reduction is possible — which could be a blow to producers of corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel, according to one of the people.
Efforts to set new requirements have been stalled for months as the administration navigates competing demands from Democratic allies — including senators representing rural, biofuel-producing states, as well as those with major oil refining assets back home. Oil refining advocates and labor leaders have asked the EPA to set “reasonable” renewable fuel requirements that reflect the pandemic-spurred drop in fuel demand and compensate for 2020 targets they say exceeded blending capacity.
But biofuel backers have warned that any move to undercut quotas risks alienating supporters in the Corn Belt and would be seen as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s campaign trail promise to protect the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard program he called part of America’s “bond with our farmers.”
Prices for corn, the main feedstock used to make ethanol, slumped to session lows after the Bloomberg report. Corn futures had already been under pressure from lackluster demand. Futures for soybean oil, used to produce biodiesel, also fell to the day’s lows.
“Should this administration choose to reduce demand for biofuels and blending requirements, this would add another bearish notch to an already fragile grain commodity technical price picture,” Naomi Blohm, senior market adviser at Total Farm Marketing in West Bend, Wisconsin, said Friday in an email.
The Biden administration is wrestling with several pressing biofuel policy questions, after federal courts ruled the EPA has wide latitude to exempt small refineries from the annual blending requirements and tossed out a Trump-era rule designed to boost summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline.
Methane Spotted Leaking From an African Greenhouse Gas Hotspot
Five leaks were spotted by satellite this month over Algeria, a supplier of gas to Italy, France and Spain.
A series of large methane plumes were detected by satellite near oil and gas fields, processing plants and pipelines in Algeria, which is among the world’s top emitters of the potent greenhouse gas.
At least five clouds have been identified so far in August, mostly in or around a sparse desert area roughly 570 kilometers (354 miles) southeast of the capital Algiers, according to Kayrros SAS, a geoanalytics company that parses satellite data to track down methane releases. The worst plume was spotted on Aug. 18. It had an estimated emissions rate of 121 metric tons an hour.
Algeria is a global methane hotspot and was responsible for some of Africa’s most severe emissions of the greenhouse gas over the past few years, according to Kayrros’ analysis. The methane intensity of the OPEC member’s energy output was the fourth-highest among a selection of producers last year, according to the International Energy Agency.
Sonatrach Group, Algeria’s state-owned oil company, didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, traps more than 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the short term. Curbing emissions of the gas could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure and scientists are targeting leaks from the oil and gas operations because they offer the biggest potential reductions at the cheapest cost.
Scrutiny over leaks from oil and gas production is also increasing as buyers seeking to limit the impact of their fossil fuel operations search for the cleanest-produced fuels. French utility Engie SA last year scrapped plans to buy liquefied natural gas from U.S. exporter NextDecade Corp. over pollution concerns related to American production.
Another release with an estimated emissions rate of 94 tons an hour was detected on Aug. 7 and a third on Aug. 13 with a rate of 37 tons an hour. Kayrros also detected two smaller releases in the region this month for which it didn’t estimate emissions rates.
If the three largest events lasted an hour, together they would have the same short-term climate warming impact as the annual emissions from more than 12,000 passenger vehicles in the U.K.
The findings add to our understanding of the extent to which methane is leaking into the atmosphere. Plumes have been spotted in dozens of countries, from Canada to Iraq. Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane and existing data isn’t yet globally comprehensive. Satellites have difficulty tracking releases near the equator and offshore. Cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity can also impact observations.
Satellites Detected A Large Release Of Super-Warming Methane Gas Over Southern Iraq Last Month
The methane cloud, spotted by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS using European Space Agency satellite data, was halfway between Baghdad and Basra, an oil and gas hub in southern Iraq. The rate of release was about 130 tons per hour, which has approximately the same climate-warming impact as 6,500 U.K. cars running for a year.
One regional producer, Thiqar Oil Co., denied that its assets were the source of the release. Oil Pipelines Co., another operator, did not announce the release on its official page for leaks and maintenance. Iraq’s oil ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Methane, which is the major component of natural gas, has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. Scientists say that reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways to slow down global warming.
Oil Pipelines Co. admitted to a release of liquefied petroleum gas in July. The company said the leak lasted only a few hours and didn’t include methane. LPG is made up of mostly propane and butane, but also has small amounts of methane and ethane. Kayrros data estimated the emissions rate was about 70 tons of methane per hour.
Kayrros also picked up a release in Iraq in June that may have lasted 24 hours. Iraq is one of the world’s top fossil-fuel producers, pumping around 4 million barrels a day of crude oil. It is ranked the fifth-biggest emitter of methane among its peers, according to the International Energy Agency.
Studies show that methane emissions from fossil-fuel infrastructure are often higher than what operators and governments report. Public and private satellites are helping spot leaks of the super-potent gas in countries including Algeria and Kazakhstan.
Satellites Spot Methane Plumes Over U.S. Caused By ‘Routine Work’
The super-warming greenhouse gas came from a natural-gas pipeline operated by Energy Transfer.
Plumes of the super-warming greenhouse gas methane were spotted over the Midwest last month. U.S. pipeline giant Energy Transfer LP said the releases were triggered by “routine work” on its natural-gas infrastructure.
The emissions were likely limited in scope—by one estimate if they lasted an hour they would have roughly the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions of about 700 cars. An Energy Transfer spokesperson said they didn’t have information on the amount released.
However, the releases raise questions about the urgency and ability of operators to respond to the climate crisis, and whether these emissions can be avoided. “During this time routine work was being performed,” the spokesperson said in an email. “All appropriate notifications were made.”
Many global oil and gas operators have said they are committed to reducing the methane intensity of their operations by cutting back on intentional emissions of the greenhouse gas. The industry is under pressure to improve operations to tackle climate change and respond to increasing investor scrutiny on environmental issues. Still, multiple operators continue to justify releases as a part of normal operations.
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas, could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term.
Scientists are targeting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry because they offer the biggest potential cuts at the cheapest cost. The U.S. was the world’s second-largest methane emitter last year after Russia, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.
The Aug. 9 releases were tied to work taking place on Energy Transfer’s Panhandle Eastern natural gas pipeline that extended to Aug. 27, according to an official notice. Excavations appear to precede pipe replacement that started on Aug. 24 and is slated to be done on Sept. 13, the notice said.
One possible reason for the releases is what is known in the industry as “blowdowns,” where companies can legally dump methane into the atmosphere for maintenance, shutdown, start-ups and for emergencies, said Sharon Wilson, senior field advocate for the nonprofit Earthworks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a recommended practice for clearing gas out of pipe segments, that the “industry doesn’t typically follow,” she said. Specific mitigation approaches can curb emissions from blowdowns by up to 90%, according to a 2016 report from consultancy M.J. Bradley & Associates.
Bloomberg News reported on a plume of methane spotted over Alberta in April that coincided with a scheduled blowdown of a pipeline operated by a unit of TC Energy Corp. The operator declined at the time to say how much methane it emitted and said it reports data on emissions to regulators and in public forums. Similarly, when asked about the concentration of the gas near their assets, global operators including Gazprom PJSC in Russia told Bloomberg News that the releases were necessary for safe operations and met all regulatory and legal requirements.
Energy Transfer, which is controlled by billionaire Kelcy Warren, said none of its assets were close to the plume detected on Aug. 11 over central Kansas and there was “no work going on that day.” The area has other energy infrastructure owned and operated by multiple companies, including active and abandoned oil and gas wells. All three methane plumes were detected and analyzed by the Paris-based geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS, which used data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite.
In August 2020, the EPA opened an investigation after Bloomberg News reported on a methane release over Florida to determine if the Clean Air Act was violated. Preliminary findings indicate the release may have occurred from work at a natural gas compressor station, the agency said at the time. The timeline coincided with the emergency shutdown of a gas compressor that’s part of the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline, a joint venture between Energy Transfer and Kinder Morgan Inc.
Satellite detection of methane plumes from natural gas supply chains has revealed a greater climate impact than previously thought from the fossil fuel long promoted by producers as a bridge to renewables. Multiple studies show that methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure are often higher than what operators and governments report.
“It’s important to note that satellite monitoring does not stop methane any more than a mammogram stops breast cancer, but they are both valuable to let us know there is a problem,” Wilson said. “We already know we have a methane problem from oil and gas that needs to stop before it becomes terminal.”
Wisconsin Launches Probe Into Methane Plume Spotted From Space
Wisconsin is investigating a methane plume that was spotted by a satellite last week.
The state launched a probe after being contacted by Bloomberg News about a plume of methane detected in southwest Wisconsin by Kayrros SAS, which relied on a Sept. 10 satellite observation from the European Space Agency. The geoanalytics company estimated an emissions rate of 30 tons of methane an hour was needed to generate the release.
“The DNR was made aware of a potential methane plume in Southwest Wisconsin, and commenced investigations immediately,” spokeswoman Molly Meister said in an email Friday. “No reports of planned or unplanned work or releases by regulated sources in the area of the plume have been identified by DNR thus far.”
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas, could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. The U.S. And the European Union this week unveiled a new initiative to pare global methane emissions by 30% before the end of the decade. Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term.
Like many other states, Wisconsin has no methane reporting requirements, and often such releases are never reported or are under-reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This year, Energy Transfer LP and Gazprom PJSC confirmed emissions in the U.S. and Russia after Bloomberg News reported plumes spotted from satellites.
Biden Says U.S. Working With EU on Pledge to Cut Global Methane Emissions
President encourages others to join in target of cutting global emissions by nearly a third by 2030.
President Biden said the U.S. is working with the European Union on a pledge to help cut global methane emissions by nearly a third by 2030, and he encouraged other countries to sign on to the effort.
“This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output,” Mr. Biden said Friday during remarks at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a long-dormant event that Mr. Biden revived ahead of United-Nations-led climate negotiations scheduled for November in Glasgow.
The U.S. and the EU issued a press release Saturday detailing the pledge. Other countries that have signed on are Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
The pledge would be the first global commitment to cut emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas less prevalent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but far more potent at trapping heat. Biden administration officials have been working for weeks to get the EU and others to sign on, focusing in particular on the world’s largest economies and oil and gas producers.
“We believe the collective goal is both ambitious, but realistic and we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at COP26,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the summit in Glasgow.
More than a half dozen leaders joined Mr. Biden virtually for what he said would be a candid assessment of the threats of climate change. Much of the event was closed to the public.
Dubbed the Global Methane Pledge, the agreement doesn’t call for country-specific targets, but rather for the signatories to support an effort to reduce global, human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 compared with 2020 levels.
Policies aimed at cutting methane emissions could fall the heaviest on oil-and-gas companies, one of the leading sources. Methane can escape into the atmosphere from leaks at drilling and storage sites or as it moves through pipelines on its way to customers including power plants and homeowners who heat with natural gas.
The farming and waste-management industries are also significant sources of methane emissions.
Galvanizing world leaders to force steep emissions cuts has proven difficult, and the public list of attendees for Friday’s forum notably didn’t include top leaders from China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, or some staunch U.S. allies such as Canada and Germany.
Attending the virtual event were the leaders of Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the U.K., the European Commission, the European Council and the United Nations, according to the White House. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry attended in person.
Lower-level officials from China, Russia, Germany and India also participated, according to the White House. Mr. Kerry led a minister-level session with those officials following the leader-level meeting, the White House said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body, in August said reduced methane emissions would be one of the most effective and immediate ways to slow climate change. But methane emissions have been rising for several decades, driven by industrial-scale farming and growing energy demand, especially for natural gas.
Russia, the world’s largest methane emitter according to the International Energy Agency, hasn’t agreed to the Global Methane Pledge.
Russia’s climate envoy attended Friday’s meeting, according to an updated list of participants released by the White House on Friday afternoon, but Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t participate.
The forum’s members—roughly mirroring the Group of 20 leading economies—account for 80% of the world’s emissions, Mr. Biden said. Other countries, especially in the developing world, are hesitant to act if these richer nations don’t move first, both to cut their own missions and help fund efforts from poorer countries to do the same.
Senior White House officials have said not to expect further commitments to come out of Friday’s event. They framed it as an opportunity for the leaders to talk, saying Mr. Biden wants more frequent sessions such as this to raise climate change as an international priority.
Mr. Biden said earlier this year that the U.S. would seek to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. The year 2005 is a common baseline for such climate targets.
During his remarks, Mr. Biden also called on countries to increase the ambition of their national pledges to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the Glasgow summit.
“We have to bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions. Those that have not yet done so, time is running out,” he said.
Methane Crackdown Could Threaten U.S. Driller Profits, Citi Says
Natural gas drillers’ earnings would take a hit from a potential U.S. crackdown on methane leaks, according to Citigroup Inc. — but the magnitude of the impact depends on how emissions are measured.
Lawmakers have proposed adding a $1,680-per-ton fee on methane to the budget bill making its way through Congress. If the levies are based on figures reported by the companies themselves, the hit to gas producers will be less than 1% of 2023 earnings, Citigroup said.
But if the gauge is based on the much higher levels of emissions detected by satellite from shale basins, the financial impact could jump to 8.5% of earnings, according to the bank.
Basin-wide studies done using satellite data point to methane emissions “an order of magnitude higher” versus what companies have reported, Citi analysts including Scott Gruber wrote Wednesday in a note to investors.
“While there’s still debate as to whether or not a methane fee is included in the reconciliation bill, another key on this topic appears to be the accuracy of reported fugitive methane figures.”
Energy companies are touting natural gas as a clean-burning fuel because it produces far fewer emissions than coal. But methane leaks from production sites, compressor stations and pipelines undermine the environmental case for gas. Methane is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over its first two decades in the atmosphere.
Pakistan Landfill Confirms Methane Leaks, Blames Higher Dumping
The lack of infrastructure to trap and burn the super-warming gas contributes to climate change.
The operator of a giant landfill in Lahore, Pakistan, said higher-than-average waste dumping contributed to releases of super-potent greenhouse gases from the site earlier this year.
There were multiple reasons for abnormally high leaks in July and August, according to Muhammad Saad, senior manager of the Lahore Waste Management Co., which operates the Lakhodair landfill in the northeast part of the city. Among them were offal being dumped after the Eid al-Adha holiday at the end of July.
The Monsoon season increases methane emissions from the site, Saad said. There were also nearby industrial units that operated during that time that may have also contributed.
Last month, Bloomberg Green reported that satellites had spotted a large methane plume above Lahore, one of Pakistan’s largest cities. While the precise source of the gas was difficult to pinpoint based on the images, decomposing trash is a common source of urban methane leaks.
Lahore is a global hotspot of methane emissions. Apart from the leaks in August, geoanalytics firm GHGSat, which can find methane leaks at a higher detection resolution, spotted a plume from the Lakhodair landfill on July 1.
Landfills produce methane when garbage breaks down in the absence of oxygen. At some point the gas escapes into the atmosphere if adequate measures aren’t in place to prevent leaks.
Methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over two decades. That’s one reason scientists have been calling for rapid cuts to methane emissions in a bid to slow down climate change.
While pressure is mounting on the oil and gas industry to reduce methane leaks, limiting emissions from sources such as landfills is also critical. Lahore Waste Management couldn’t comment on how much methane exactly has been leaked from the Lakhodair landfill in recent years because the company doesn’t monitor those emissions.
They also don’t have any equipment to limit leaks. But that could change. The company is in the early stages of developing plans to construct a plant that would capture and use the gas produced by the landfill to produce electricity.
Why Biden’s Methane Fee Isn’t A Gas Tax
It’s a tax on the natural-gas industry for failing to capture and sell its own product.
Charif Souki, who founded the biggest U.S. natural gas-export firm and now chairs another called Tellurian Inc., isn’t known for mincing words. And he didn’t disappoint when tackling the issue of methane emissions at a recent event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
In the upstream, methane leaks are inexcusable. They’re avoidable. The technology is available to do it … It should not be allowed.
This is noteworthy for two reasons. First, an industry insider is calling out companies that are potential clients and suppliers. Second, he did so sitting across town from where lawmakers are weighing a punitive federal fee on methane leaks.
Business is all about incentives, and methane standards loosened under the last administration while, until very recently, natural gas prices were so low that capturing every last molecule wasn’t exactly top-of-mind. Naturally, the gas industry isn’t too pleased about the penalties now being proposed to address that.
A month ago, several trade associations sent a letter to congressional leaders warning such penalties would effectively be a tax on energy consumers, raising average gas bills by perhaps 17%.
That math was based on an earlier figure of $1,800 per tonne of fugitive methane, versus the $1,500 now talked about, but it’s hard to see how it adds up. First, it assumes the cost of the gas itself accounts for almost half the average residential bill.
While I haven’t seen the internal data used by the trade association analysts, that proportion looks very high compared with public data from the Energy Information Administration.
Back-of-the-envelope time. Almost 76 billion cubic feet of gas per day was delivered to U.S. consumers of all types last year. Assume that was after 2% of penalized emissions, and the total penalty to be absorbed would come to about $21 billion — or 78 cents per thousand cubic feet of gas actually delivered.
At last year’s average residential price of $10.78 per thousand cubic feet, as reported by the EIA, that implies an increase of just 7%.
This brings us to the second problem with the industry’s analysis: It assumes the fines would have no effect on behavior and just get passed all the way down the line to your basement boiler. Possibly that might happen in the very short term.
Yet even when gas traded at just $2, the spread between capturing and selling gas versus being fined for not capturing it was more than $30 per thousand cubic feet. That would constitute an enormous incentive to invest in curbing emissions, and one that increases along with gas prices (at current levels the spread would be closer to $40).
Moreover, several analyses, such as those by the Boston Consulting Group or Levi Marks at the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, have shown abatement costs to be relatively minimal, especially when you factor in the positive contribution of selling the captured gas.
One recent analysis by economist Brian Prest at Resources for the Future, an environmental think tank, building on Marks’ work, implies a $1,500 penalty might raise wholesale gas prices, net, by between 9 and 30 cents per thousand cubic feet, or just 1-3% of the EIA’s average residential price.
Incidentally, that’s around the 10 cent figure Souki threw out when admonishing the industry, urging it to just get it done and “let’s move on.” Nikos Tsafos of the CSIS, who posed questions to Souki that day, set this in a wider context for me:
You cannot say that gas has a constructive role to play in the energy transition without saying, at the same time, that emissions are unacceptable and must be eliminated immediately. I don’t buy the competitiveness objection: if you need to pollute with impunity to be competitive, then you really need to rethink your business model.
It is puzzling that an industry boasting enormous technical prowess in such fields as fracking and liquefied natural gas hasn’t moved more quickly to just hang onto and sell more of its own product. The opportunity to sell U.S. gas overseas (at sometimes very hefty spreads) as well as back-up renewable energy should be incentive enough to burnish its image via relatively easy fixes.
Framing the methane fee as a tax on billpayers may be politically useful, but it also isn’t true. This isn’t a tax on the gas we consume but rather the gas that somehow never makes it far enough for us to consume. In that sense, it’s a tax on failure.
The original letter saidthe analysis assumes that “about 30%” of the average bill is accounted for by the cost of the gas itself. However, when I contacted the American Gas Association for details, they said that had been updated toa figure of 45%. How both assumptionsresultin a cost increase of 17% is unclear.
“The Abatement Cost of Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Production” by Levi Marks, working paper, 2018.
The Cheap And Easy Climate Fix That Can Cool The Planet Fast
Let a molecule of carbon dioxide escape into the atmosphere, and it stays for centuries. There’s more than enough up there to smother the planet like a too-warm quilt, trapping heat within and weirding the weather. The damage will be felt for generations.
But CO2 is only part of the patchwork of warming. Methane locks in far more heat in the short term and has been leaking just as relentlessly.
Atmospheric concentrations of methane are 2.5x higher than in pre-industrial times.
The difference is that methane’s power fades faster, within just decades. If we stopped emissions today, almost all the methane in the atmospheric blanket would degrade within a lifetime.
That’s why the U.S. and the European Union have been pressing countries to make a methane-cutting pledge. If enough nations sign up and meet the target—reaching a 30% reduction from last year’s levels by the end of the decade—the global movement against methane could prove to be one of the crucial achievements of the COP26 climate talks taking place in November in Glasgow, Scotland.
But much more could be done. Raising that target to 50% could help us prevent 0.3°C of warming by the 2040s and 0.5°C by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Given that the planet has already heated up 1.1°C, it would make a big difference to the world’s long-term warming forecast. Move quickly enough on methane, and the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C becomes far more feasible.
“The conversation is changing. Methane has risen to the fore,” says Sarah Smith, program director for super pollutants at Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy group. “World leaders are starting to recognize that curbing methane is the only clear strategy to cut warming over the next two decades.”
Methane vs. Carbon Dioxide
An atmospheric census would find 200 molecules of CO2 for every one of methane. Yet methane has caused nearly a quarter of the world’s observed heating over the past two and a half centuries, while CO2 accounts for only about half.
The difference comes down to atmospheric physics and molecular mechanics. Every day the sun pumps vast amounts of energy into the planet. Some of it is absorbed by the land and oceans at the Earth’s surface, but most is reflected back into the sky in the form of infrared radiation.
It’s on that journey back into space that most of the heat gets trapped under the quilt of greenhouse gases. The CO2 molecules number an astonishing 30 trillion trillion trillion trillion—that’s 30 followed by 36 zeros—all jiggling constantly while absorbing and reflecting infrared light.
Methane does the same, except that its molecular structure, consisting of a carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms, traps heat more effectively. But that molecular structure and elemental makeup also allows methane to break down faster. This process happens through its easy interaction with other gases, such as oxygen, through which it forms new compounds, including CO2.
Historically speaking, most of the methane released by direct human action has come from rice production and raising cows, which belch the greenhouse gas in significant quantities. But over the past 50 years, leaky fossil fuel infrastructure, much of it tied to the rise of natural gas, has also grown to become a supersized contributor.
Where Methane Comes From
Agriculture, Energy, And Waste Are The Largest Contributors Globally
The good news is that we have the tools we need right now to stop a large chunk of those emissions. Research by the United Nations found that as much as 80% of measures to curb leaks from oil and gas operations can be implemented at no cost, and many may even result in savings. Virtually all methane leaks from the coal sector could be painlessly eliminated.
“A huge amount of methane leakage is happening in the oil and gas industry,” says Cat Abreu, founder and executive director of Destination Zero, which seeks to eliminate fugitive methane. “It’s very cheap to cut, and, in many cases, it’s a job creator.”
Start Cutting Here
Tools already exist to eliminate 58% of global methane emissions by 2030.
The Quick Fixes
Tackling methane starts with the oil and gas industry, where up to 85% of methane emissions could be mitigated by 2030 using existing technology, according to a paper published in Environmental Research Letters last year.
The gas has been leaking freely into the air for years from fossil fuel infrastructure, especially in major producing and consuming nations such as China, Russia and the U.S.
Even though lost methane is a product that companies can sell to heat homes and spin power-plant turbines, most put little effort into tracking down fugitive plumes. Efforts by the U.S. government to monitor leaks since 2014 haven’t nearly reflected the full scope of the climate damage.
Using satellite data, researchers from Harvard found that emissions from the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico over an 11-month period were twice government figures. Emissions in the state of Pennsylvania are at least 15% higher than previously thought, according to a study by scientists at Cornell.
The French satellite-analytics company Kayrros SAS estimates that the Permian basin has emitted more than 2 million tons of methane this year through September, equivalent to the annual emissions from at least 40 million passenger cars.
Until recently methane detection was more of a craft project than a science. Producers and regulators relied on crude techniques such as throwing a tarp over a pipe to see if it bubbled or sending workers out to inspect equipment.
There are now a host of technologies to detect fugitive methane, from parsing satellite data to deploying drones and handheld infrared cameras. Once a leak is detected, plugging it isn’t that different from high-tech plumbing.
Regulations in many countries also require coal-mining companies to build infrastructure that recovers methane before it’s released. The gas is collected and burned to help power the plant’s operations, so the costs work out favorably in the end.
The trash piled up in the landfills doesn’t just release CO2 when it decomposes. In the absence of oxygen, methane forms instead. The gas builds up inside the mountains of waste, eventually escaping to the surface.
Large clouds of methane in cities from Buenos Aires to Lahore have been attributed to landfills.
“Landfills are pretty complicated facilities,” says Bram Maasakkers, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research. Scientists estimate that about 10% of human-caused methane comes from landfills, he says, “but how good the data is varies across the world.”
A growing number of landfill operators are starting to capture methane at their sites, which can be used to fuel the plants and garbage trucks. The Environmental Research Letters study estimates that 80% of emissions from landfills could be mitigated by 2030 using existing technology. The other solution is to cut down on waste and recycle more trash instead of discarding it.
The largest source of methane comes from growing the crops and meat that feed the world. And those emissions are set to grow as the global population increases and developing countries get richer.
More than two-thirds of the world’s rice is grown by flooding fields that cover an area twice as large as France. Microbes in the waterlogged soil produce large quantities of methane.
Research in China, one of the biggest producers of rice, has found it’s possible to cut methane in half by draining water from rice paddies in the middle of the growing season. The process also increases rice yields and saves water.
Other researchers, in India and the Philippines, have found new varieties of rice that can thrive in dry fields—though their yields don’t yet match those of widely grown varieties.
For the world’s 1.4 billion cows, the problem starts in the gut. The ruminants get help from bacteria to break down the hard-to-digest grasses they eat. The cost, however, is the production of methane as a byproduct.
Cutting these methane emissions is more challenging, but researchers are working on several potential solutions. One is to use special feed additives that help cows produce less methane. Cargill, the world’s largest agriculture company, is also urging suppliers to put special masks on cattle that would trap methane and convert it into CO2.
In the fight against global warming, methane has flown under the radar for too long. But there’s increasing recognition that tackling the invisible, odorless gas is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most feasible ways to make a real difference in slowing climate change. It’s the rare climate problem with a fix that can be felt by those alive right now, not their great-grandchildren.
“The world will continue to warm as long as CO2 is being pumped into the atmosphere,” concluded an August editorial in the scientific journal Nature. But curbing methane will help buy “humanity a bit more time to do what needs to be done.”
Satellite Startup Wants to Fight Climate Crisis With Next-Level Data
Muon Space uses AI and detailed imagery to measure—and hopefully help mitigate—what can only be seen from space.
Over the past few years technology companies have started to build something akin to a computing shell around the Earth, where satellites gather massive amounts of photos and other measurements and artificial intelligence software systems analyze the data.
The results can be quite spectacular. It’s no longer enough for systems like these to count every tree on the Earth’s surface; now they aim to measure each one’s health, size, and species to compute their total biomass and ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the air.
Advances in hardware and machine-learning software are vastly expanding what’s possible with satellite data. Once the province of government-backed research, the most ambitious work today comes from private companies. Startups in the field say they want to assist scientists grappling with climate change by providing precise data about the health of the planet.
But they’re also chasing profits and counting on the information they’re generating being valuable to those judging whether corporate and government programs to better the environment are effective.
One of the most ambitious startups in the field is Muon Space. While other companies have focused on one part of the process—maintaining networks of satellites, say, or creating computer models to monitor specific situations such as wildfires or methane leaks—Muon wants to do it all.
Founded by a team of satellite experts and scientists, it plans to launch a fleet of satellites designed to analyze Earth’s atmosphere, land, and water in fine detail. The company will combine measurements from its own equipment with decades of publicly available satellite data to create a meticulously detailed picture of the planet’s ecosystems.
Muon’s goal is to build a single application to help companies do things like monitor the efficacy of their reforestation programs and allow regulators to prove which farmers are polluting certain rivers.
“We think that over the next 10 years there’s going to have to be a huge reckoning in terms of transparency around things like carbon credits and that we’re going to need better data to adapt to climate changes,” says Jonny Dyer, Muon’s chief executive officer and co-founder, in his first public comments about the company’s technology.
“We need to move from images of the planet to fundamental geophysical measurements.” Muon recently raised $10 million.
Historically, governments have openly shared much of the data gathered from their satellites. But working with the information has been tough. Much of their systems’ technology predates any planning for the modern era of cloud computing and AI-based data analysis.
“Twenty years ago, the idea of putting every satellite image where any scientist could access it was unheard of,” says Joe Hamman, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “That vastly limited how scientists thought about the problems they would work on.”
Government bodies have been working to modernize their tech, but private industry tends to outpace their efforts. Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com have built systems that gather public climate data, often obtained via satellites, and make it available to just about anyone who wants to poke around the images and measurements.
The motivation is a mix of altruism and a desire to showcase their networks’ power to potential clients of their cloud computing products.
Microsoft Corp. also wants to monitor its own environmental programs. Last year the company said it planned to be carbon-negative by 2030, one of the most ambitious corporate climate pledges to date. Dubious of the quality of some reforestation and carbon capture ventures, Microsoft has been looking for ways to assess its own efforts.
“We are the largest participant in the carbon removal market today,” says Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental officer. “How in the world are we ever going to monitor and validate the removal that we paid for in any sort of scalable way? The answer lies in remote sensing.”
Microsoft’s Planetary Computer is one of the biggest repositories of climate-related data ever assembled. Joppa warns that many problems still exist around working with satellite data, including basic, painstaking work such as pulling subpar images from databases and finding the right algorithms to simplify complex scientific measurements.
“This is not easy, and it’s not cheap if you want to extract meaningful information,” he says.
Startups have also begun picking off various aspects of the undertaking. Salo Sciences, Chloris Geospatial, and NCX are applying image recognition and other machine-learning techniques to existing data.
Planet Labs Inc. has the largest network of image-taking satellites ever built and can take multiple photos of almost all of the Earth’s landmass every day. MethaneSAT, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, is planning a fleet of satellites to monitor methane emissions at more than 80% of the world’s oil and gas fields.
Hamman says this kind of approach has the potential to lead to improvements on satellite work that’s been going on for decades. Still, he’s concerned that the typical startup hype cycles could prove a distraction at a time of extreme urgency for climate-related work.
“I don’t want to downplay what people are trying to do, but there are marginal benefits on many of these things,” he says. “There are fundamental challenges that we face with the climate that don’t go away because we have a new satellite or a clever way of doing accounting.”
Muon’s founders are veterans of the space industry. Dyer was the chief engineer of Skybox Imaging, a startup that created techniques to make satellites smaller and cheaper, which was purchased by Google in 2014. His co-founder, Dan McCleese, is the former chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Muon’s satellites, which the company expects to launch in the next two years, will use thermal infrared sensors, infrared spectroscopy, and low-frequency radar to scrutinize almost every inch of the planet. Until then it’s applying its algorithms to existing image databases and calculating soil moisture levels, snow depth, and the types of standing water in various locations.
Muon has projects with Google and weather forecaster Tomorrow.io to prove out its data and image analysis techniques, which have already allowed it to catch businesses polluting areas meant to be protected.
“In areas like agriculture where there are some bogus things going on, you can see something like waste discharge very clearly with these approaches,” Dyer says. He considers a satellite-based system for automatically monitoring environmental conditions as inevitable, whether it’s built by Muon or someone else.
“When we look back in 20 years, it’s going to be obvious that the only way markets can develop around this stuff and regulators can feel comfortable is if this is real and you have good data.”
Large Methane Clouds Spotted Near Gas Pipelines In Iran
The nation is the third-biggest emitter of the superwarming greenhouse gas from oil and gas production, according to the International Energy Agency.
Satellites spotted several large clouds of methane near fossil fuel infrastructure in Iran, which is one of the largest producers of natural gas and responsible for the world’s third-most emissions of the superpotent greenhouse gas from oil and gas activities.
The methane plumes were identified by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS using European Space Agency data. The largest leak occurred on Sept. 5, in the southwest of the country near the border with Iraq. The rate of release was about 95 tons per hour, which has approximately the same climate-warming impact as 4,700 cars in the U.K. running for one year.
There were two other leaks in September in the same area, one on Sept. 17 that emitted 34 tons per hour and another on Sept. 24 that released 36 tons per hour. Additionally, on Sep. 12, just south of Tehran, a leak released about 54 tons of methane per hour.
All the clouds were seen near gas pipelines owned by the National Iranian Gas Company. The leaks in the south were also near an oilfield, but a spokesperson for Kayrros said pipelines were the most likely source as those leaks happen often during routine maintenance.
Representatives for the National Iranian Gas Company didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Methane, which is the major component of natural gas, has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. Scientists say that reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways to slow down global warming. Those from oil and gas infrastructure, in particular, are the lowest hanging fruits.
Satellite monitoring has been helping expose leaks of the super-potent greenhouse gas from fossil-fuel infrastructure. That has forced companies to disclosed previously unreported leaks and caused regulators to open investigations.
An Empire of Dying Methane-Leaking Oil Wells
Old oil and gas sites are a climate menace. Meet the company that owns more of America’s decaying wells than any other.
Outside of hunting season, few people visit the Tri-Valley Wildlife Area in the rolling hills of southeast Ohio. When a couple of Bloomberg Green reporters showed up on a muggy June morning, the only sounds were birdsongs and the whirring of our infrared camera.
We set out on foot and soon spotted the first of several rusty natural gas wells scattered across a broad meadow. Their storage tanks, half-covered with vines and brush, looked like the forgotten monuments of some lost civilization.
There are hundreds of thousands of such decrepit oil and gas wells across the U.S., and for a long time few people paid them much mind. That changed over the past decade as scientists discovered the surprisingly large role they play in the climate crisis.
Old wells tend to leak, and raw natural gas consists mostly of methane, which has far more planet-warming power than carbon dioxide. That morning in Ohio we pointed our camera at busted pipes, rusted joints, and broken valves, and we saw the otherwise invisible greenhouse gas jetting out. A sour smell lingered in the air.
To Rusty Hutson, it smells like money.
Hutson is the founder and chief executive officer of one of the strangest companies ever to hit the American oil patch and the reason for our four-day visit to the Appalachian region. While other oilmen focus on drilling the next gusher, Hutson buys used wells that generate just a trickle or nothing at all.
Over the past four years his Diversified Energy Co. has amassed about 69,000 wells, eclipsing Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the largest well owner in the country.
Investors love him. Since listing shares in 2017, Hutson’s company has outperformed almost every other U.S. oil and gas stock, swelling his personal stake to more than $30 million.
But Diversified’s breakneck growth has alarmed some regulators, landowner groups, and industry insiders, not to mention environmental advocates. State laws require that every well be plugged with cement after it runs dry, an expensive and complicated chore. At the rate Diversified is paying dividends to shareholders, some worry there will be nothing left when the bills come due.
If a company can’t meet its plugging obligations, that burden falls to the state, which means Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia could be stuck with a billion-dollar mess. “The model seems like it’s built on abandoning those assets,” says Ted Boettner, who’s studied abandoned wells at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a regional research organization. “It looks like a liability bomb that’s destined to explode.”
Hutson says there’s no cause for worry. He claims to be able to squeeze more gas out of old wells than other companies can and keep them going longer. On average, he figures his wells have an additional 50 years in them, which means there’s no hurry to start socking away money to plug them.
It also means they could be spouting pollution long past 2050, the target date set by President Joe Biden for zeroing out emissions across the economy.
State regulators say Diversified hasn’t broken any rules by building an empire of dying wells. Nor has it violated any restrictions on methane emissions, because none apply. Indeed, state and federal policies—from plugging regulations to tax subsidies—encourage companies to do exactly what Diversified is doing: Keep almost dead assets on life support as long as possible, no matter how much they may damage the planet.
We decided to see for ourselves what Hutson’s plans might mean for the climate by visiting 44 well sites owned by Diversified. We used state databases to find accessible wells on public land in three states.
Then we borrowed a $100,000 industry standard GF320 camera—designed to spot methane—from its manufacturer, Teledyne FLIR. One of us got trained and certified to use it, and the other operated a handheld gas detector.
The results were worrisome. We found methane leaks at most of the places we visited. Some sites showed signs of maintenance in recent months, but others looked more or less abandoned.
We saw access roads choked by vegetation, machinery buried under vines and weeds, oil dripping onto the ground, and steel doors rusted off their hinges. That’s not to say the wells were unattended. Mud wasps, spiders, mice, snails, and bees made their homes in them, and a porcupine napped under a brine tank.
A Trip Through Appalachia On The Trail Of Leaky Wells
Advocates for natural gas call it a cleaner fossil fuel because it releases about half the carbon dioxide as coal when burned. But there’s a catch: Left unburned, natural gas consists mostly of methane, which is much better at trapping heat. Released into the air, a ton of methane will cause at least 80 times more warming over the next 20 years than a ton of carbon dioxide.
That’s one reason controlling methane is among the cheapest and quickest ways to slow climate change and limit the wildfires, heat waves, rising seas, and droughts it’s unleashing. According to one recent estimate, putting a lid on human-caused methane emissions could prevent as much as one-third of the warming expected in the next few decades.
Researchers around the world are racing to reexamine the world’s energy supply chain, finding where gas is leaking and showing what can be done about it.
Scientists are training infrared cameras on methane emissions in Texas oil fields, using satellites to spot them in Turkmenistan, and driving sensor-laden vehicles around city streets in the Netherlands. One problem area they’ve identified: old wells that produce little or no salable gas.
Only about 3% of gas needs to escape on its journey from wellhead to power plant to make it worse for the planet than coal. If a well is producing next to nothing, even a small leak can put it over that threshold.
“Marginal wells are emitting a very large proportion of the natural gas that they produce,” says Amy Townsend-Small, an associate professor of environmental science at the University of Cincinnati. “Some marginal wells are emitting more natural gas than they produce.”
Townsend-Small is a co-author of a 2020 study that examined old, low-producing oil and gas wells in Ohio, not far from Tri-Valley. She found their emissions amounted to 21% of gas production. Two other peer-reviewed studies, using different measurement techniques and examining gas wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, found loss rates of 9% and 18%. None of the papers identified the well owners.
Taken together, the research suggests that gas from old wells in Appalachia is one of the dirtiest components of the U.S. energy system.
The damage doesn’t end when these wells stop producing. Some continue to leak methane for years if they’re not properly plugged. Another paper estimated that as much as 8% of Pennsylvania’s human-caused methane emissions was coming from these inactive wells.
Our own survey wasn’t scientific. But it provided some hints that problems noted by academic researchers, such as poor maintenance and frequent leaks, were also present at Diversified’s operations. At 59% of the sites we visited, emissions were significant enough to cause our detector to sound a safety alarm, indicating that the concentration of methane near the instrument’s sensor exceeded 5,000 parts per million.
Normal air contains about 2 parts. In a few cases the source appeared to be a pneumatic controller designed to release gas, but the vast majority were leaks.
In a statement to Bloomberg Green, Diversified said that the wells we visited were “not representative of our entire portfolio” and that many had been neglected by previous owners and acquired only recently. Some of the leaks we found were tiny, the company added, and all of them were repaired within a few weeks of our inquiries.
The cost for quickly fixing these wells, according to Diversified, was less than $90 on average. The company also said it fixed a leak in an underground pipeline in West Virginia after we reported finding a high concentration of gas nearby.
Diversified said that it’s committed to reducing methane emissions across its operations and that it’s investing in training and equipment to help field personnel find leaks. As for the academic studies showing high emissions rates in the region’s old wells, Diversified questioned their accuracy and said its own wells are better maintained than those of other companies, with staff visiting wells once a month on average. “We firmly believe that we are the best custodian of these wells,” the company said.
No one, including Diversified executives, knows how much methane is actually leaking. Unlike carbon emissions, which are usually a function of intentional fuel use, methane emissions are often inadvertent and intermittent. That makes them almost impossible to measure comprehensively across thousands of locations.
Like most oil and gas producers, Diversified estimates emissions using formulas, most of them developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that assign a theoretical leak rate to each valve, connector, and tank. For 2020, Diversified told investors those numbers added up to about 38,000 tons of methane, or less than 1% of its gas production. The formulas don’t take into account the age or condition of hardware or whether any efforts were made to fix leaks.
Researchers say the actual measurements they get in the field are often wildly different from those predicted by formulas. The study of wells in West Virginia found emissions rates more than seven times EPA numbers.
In February, Diversified told Pennsylvania regulators it had self-inspected 1,412 of its least productive wells in the state and reported that none was leaking gas. We visited three of those wells in June. Two were leaking.
Hutson, 52, grew up in the tiny West Virginia river town of Lumberport, where his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father, Rusty Sr., all worked for the local gas company. “There were two kinds of people—you either worked in coal, or you worked in oil and gas,” Hutson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told BBC News last year, recounting his company’s origins.
“It was a generational thing. If your dad and grandfather did it for a living, then you did it.” Instead, Hutson became the first in his family to graduate from college, earning an accounting degree and pursuing a finance career out of state.
By his early 30s, while working at a bank in Birmingham, Ala., Hutson turned back to the family business. He borrowed against his house to buy a few old gas wells near where he grew up. Then he bought several more. Within a few years he quit finance to focus on gas full time. He set up company headquarters near his home in Birmingham while working closely with his father in Lumberport.
The fracking revolution in the early 2000s created opportunity. Companies were pouring money into new drilling techniques to unlock vast amounts of oil and gas from shale fields. When they lost interest in their older, less productive conventional wells, Hutson was there to buy. By 2017 he’d amassed 7,500 wells. That February he floated the company’s shares on AIM, a lightly regulated arm of the London Stock Exchange for small companies.
“The model seems like it’s built on abandoning those assets. It looks like a liability bomb that’s destined to explode”
Hutson, who has a square jaw and carefully parted gray hair, started appearing in videos on stock-promotion websites, talking up his company’s prospects. He unveiled a Diversified program called Smarter Well Management, a sort of Fountain of Youth for decrepit gas wells.
Over time, wells tend to bring forth less and less oil and gas until they’re finally spent. Hutson said Diversified had developed a system to slow the decline and even resurrect wells that others had left for dead.
Sometimes the most profitable reason to extend the life of an old well isn’t the extra oil or gas that comes out. It’s the delay in the date when a well has to be plugged. When companies tell investors how much they expect to spend on retiring wells, they discount it by how far away that day of reckoning is. On the books, a 50-year timeline makes Hutson’s cost almost disappear.
Because it plugs so many wells and keeps much of the work in-house, Diversified says it can retire wells for under $25,000, less than industry norms. Thanks to that, and the unusually long time horizon, Diversified often records its plugging liabilities at a fraction of what other companies would.
In 2018 the company bought a portfolio of wells from CNX Resources Corp. CNX had pegged its cleanup liability at $197 million. Diversified put the liability for the same wells at only $14 million.
This may explain why Diversified frequently determines the wells it’s buying are worth far more than what it paid—so much so that it books the difference as profit upfront. Since 2014 the amount Diversified has made from these accounting gains is more than its cumulative reported profit. In its statement the company noted its books are reviewed by outside engineers as well as independent auditors at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
After going public, Hutson accelerated his buying spree. By last year he owned about 1 in 5 wells across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Tom Loughrey, an oil and gas data analyst in Chapel Hill, N.C., remembers the day in 2019 when someone on a phone call mentioned a new company that had more wells than anyone else. “I’ve worked in upstream oil and gas finance and investing since 1998,” he says. “I had never heard of the company before.”
Loughrey was intrigued. Could Diversified really make money from such geriatric wells? In a blog post last year, he wrote that he analyzed 37,000 Diversified wells and wasn’t optimistic. About half of the ones he looked at were producing less than 15,000 cubic feet a day, he wrote, “which in this price environment will barely buy you lunch.”
“Every oilman since the beginning of time has wanted to buy proved, producing assets,” Loughrey says. “Why is it that Diversified is the only company that’s able to pull this off this decade and be successful with it? Why is one company basically beating the market? It boggles my mind.”
American oil executives talk about a food chain in their industry. Big, well-capitalized companies tend to be the ones to drill wells and harvest the first years’ production. As output tapers, wells typically change hands a few times, then spend their golden years with a smaller, more financially shaky company. If that company goes broke, there’s no money to plug the well. In most states, previous owners aren’t liable.
That helps explain how an industry that created some of the biggest fortunes and most valuable companies has also produced hundreds of thousands of orphaned wells, with no owner around to clean them up. The Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission estimates the number across the U.S. may be as high as 800,000. In August the U.S. Senate approved an infrastructure bill that includes $4.7 billion to begin tackling the problem.
Hutson’s company represents a new link in the chain. Many of his wells were once owned by the biggest explorers, such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron. But rather than scattering among hundreds of small-time operators, the wells are now ending up with him. That’s great if Diversified can keep its promises. It also concentrates the risk if something goes wrong.
The Diversified takeovers set off alarms. In 2018 a group of West Virginia landowners sought to block the transfer of 3,865 wells, warning of “one of the most, if not the most, widespread environmental and property-rights disasters ever in West Virginia.”
Some regulators were worried, too, but they had little leverage. Although well owners must post bonds to cover cleanup costs, the amounts required are so small they’re almost meaningless. Regulators have limited powers to block transfers to a new owner. The West Virginia transfers were approved after the state denied the landowners’ request for a hearing.
In Pennsylvania, Scott Perry, the state’s chief oil and gas regulator, told an advisory council in 2019 he had “considerable concern” that so many wells had been bought by the same company, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “No one broke the law by selling wells to that company, and they didn’t break the law by buying them,” he said at the meeting. “But the law is weak.”
Thousands of wells Diversified bought were producing nothing at all, meaning they were already out of compliance. State laws require nonproductive wells to be plugged promptly, so they don’t endanger groundwater or catch fire. But enforcing this law is difficult.
Regulators worry that if they push companies too hard, it can cause financial distress and reduce the chances that anything will be plugged. “If the burden is so high to plug a well, then a company may not be able to do it, and you’ve defeated the purpose,” says Eric Vendel, chief of Ohio’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
That concern was especially acute for Diversified, which was juggling an unprecedented number of idle wells in multiple states.
Instead, four states—Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—cut deals that give Diversified about a decade or more to bring roughly 3,000 idle wells into compliance.
If the company revives enough of those wells, it’s required to plug only 20 unsalvageable ones a year in each of the four states. At that pace it would take about 750 years for Diversified to plug everything it currently owns in the region.
State officials say the company has kept up its end of the bargain so far. Last year, Diversified said, it plugged 92 wells, a dozen more than required. The company said its pace beats any other company in Appalachia, an assertion that couldn’t be independently confirmed.
It also reported reviving production at hundreds of idle wells, which means it’s off the hook from retiring them anytime soon. The states don’t have enough inspectors to verify these production claims, so they mostly rely on what Diversified tells them.
“No one broke the law by selling wells to that company, and they didn’t break the law by buying them. But the law is weak”
An incident in Ohio shows the risk of that approach. In 2019, Diversified told state officials it had revived a well in Trumbull County, squeezing a modest amount of gas from a site that had produced nothing the previous year. That put the well back into compliance with state law.
But when a state inspector visited the following June, she found the site idle, according to a report she filed. A field employee explained that the well was filled with water and hadn’t produced anything the year before, contradicting what the company had claimed. Diversified said any misreporting wasn’t intentional.
As president of the West Virginia Royalty Owners Association, Tom Huber represents individuals who share in the profits of oil and gas production on private land. He has every reason to cheer for a company that says it can boost output and keep wells going longer—the more production, the bigger the payments to his members.
“I want Rusty and Diversified to make a bunch of money and to stay in business 50 years,” Huber says. But he fears Diversified won’t be able to meet its obligations, leaving a mess for taxpayers to clean up. “I hate to sound pessimistic about it,” he says, “but I’m pessimistic.”
On the last day of our trip, we met up with Townsend-Small in West Virginia. She’s one of a growing tribe of methane hunters who venture to oil fields from Romania to Mexico to document emissions of the greenhouse gas. She arrived with a carload of gear and cheerful advice on ticks, poison ivy, flat tires, and other hazards of fieldwork. Her goal was to measure the amount of emissions at a few wells, something our equipment couldn’t do.
We took Townsend-Small to three wells we’d identified as leakers. At each, she used a handheld detector to find where gas was escaping.
Then she lugged a metal suitcase to the site and opened it, revealing a contraption called an Indaco Hi-Flow Sampler. It looked like a relic from a 1950s sci-fi movie, with a chrome control panel and a coil of plastic hoses. She held one hose near the leak after covering the area with plastic sheeting.
The machine’s display panel showed the concentration of methane in the sample as well as the rate of flow. That allowed her to calculate the amount of methane pouring out.
Townsend-Small found emissions of 38, 50, and 91 grams an hour at the wells she measured. If those rates continued over the course of a year, the three wells would cause the warming equivalent of 134 tons of carbon dioxide. Diversified said those amounts aren’t inconsistent with the emissions figures it already discloses to investors.
An employee had visited the biggest leaker we measured, Wilson Coal Land No. 89, a few days before we showed up and hadn’t noticed any problems, the company said. After our inquiry, Diversified said it sent someone back to make a $300 repair.
West Virginia records show No. 89 produced only a trickle of salable gas last year—about 8,000 cubic feet. That means it may have been leaking six times what it produced for sale, making its gas a far more potent warming agent than coal.
No. 89 was drilled in 1964 and passed through a handful of owners before Diversified bought it last year from a small Colorado company. The gas it produced in 2020 would have been worth about $25 wholesale. It’s hard to imagine how a well like that could ever be profitable again.
Keeping a well like No. 89 going makes more sense after considering the government policies that shape Diversified’s business. By not requiring drillers to post cleanup costs upfront, state laws incentivize companies to delay plugging as long as they can.
Marginal well owners also collect a federal tax credit, meant to support jobs in the oil and gas industry when prices fall below a certain level. Last year, Diversified reported an $80 million benefit from the subsidy, or about one-fifth of what it got from selling oil and gas.
In West Virginia there’s an additional benefit. Last year the legislature cut the severance tax on the lowest-producing wells in half. Diversified, by far the biggest beneficiary of the cut, told investors it “engaged with state regulators in West Virginia to help craft” the bill, which also directs revenue toward plugging orphaned wells.
In a state that’s been losing coal jobs and was mostly left out of the fracking boom, Hutson is burnishing his company’s image as a local success story. Diversified, which now employs more than 1,000 people, recently became the “official energy partner” of West Virginia University’s Mountaineers, and Hutson’s name graces a laboratory at Fairmont State University, his alma mater.
The state has been good to him, too. Not long after passing the tax break for low-producing wells, it allowed Diversified to experiment with a less expensive process for plugging wells than state regulations require.
The $4.7 billion measure working its way through Congress would help states deal with thousands of wells that must be plugged at taxpayer expense because owners disappeared or went belly up. While the spending would reduce methane emissions and create oilfield jobs, it doesn’t address the reason those wells were orphaned to begin with: state laws that fail to ensure the industry cleans up its own messes.
Although some environmental agencies have begun regulating methane emissions, they’ve shied away from targeting the kind of older, low-producing properties that Diversified owns. Trade groups argue that the cost of inspection would make these wells unprofitable and could kill local jobs and hurt small businesses.
The EPA, which issued a methane regulation for new wells in 2016, is now crafting a rule for older wells but hasn’t said how it will treat low producers. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania exempted low-producing wells when it proposed a statewide methane rule last year, sparing more than 99% of Diversified’s holdings in the state.
After years of focusing on his native region, Hutson wants to replicate his strategy elsewhere, amassing old and overlooked wells on the cheap. His current prospect is a patch of Louisiana, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas, where he lined up four acquisitions this year. “We have a lot of opportunity in front of us,” he told investors in July. The company was recently promoted to the LSE’s main market, where the biggest companies trade.
In Appalachia the rust accumulates. State records show that more than 1 in 10 of Hutson’s wells there aren’t producing anything at all. Among them is one known as Fee A 36, almost hidden by weeds in a forest in central Pennsylvania.
Drilled during World War II, Fee A 36 once belonged to Chevron Corp., but by the time the well stopped producing gas in 1998, it had already been through several different owners. It’s no longer even connected to a gathering line. A rusty pipe leading from the wellhead ends in an open shaft, where our camera recorded methane trickling past two large bees sheltering inside.
Even Diversified acknowledges this well can’t be resurrected. But its deal with Pennsylvania requires it to plug only 20 wells a year, and there are hundreds of wells to retire. Fee A 36 will have to wait its turn.
Canada Methane Plume Coincided With Work On Gas System
The country recently joined a global pact to cut emissions of the superpotent greenhouse gas.
A plume of methane detected by satellite last month in Canada lined up with the intentional release of the superpotent greenhouse gas from a network of natural gas pipelines.
SaskEnergy Inc. said its TransGas unit performed relief-valve maintenance at the Rush Lake Compressor station in Saskatchewan on the morning of Sept. 24, releasing natural gas — whose main component is methane — for 10 minutes. A concentration of the gas cloud was observed at 2:15 p.m. local time by a European Space Agency satellite.
The operator first said it released about 400 gigajoules of gas, but on Wednesday revised that assessment to less than 13 gigajoules, after consulting with onsite teams. Kayrros SAS, a geoanalytics company, estimated an emissions rate of 52 tons an hour based on the satellite data, which is roughly in line with the original figure SaskEnergy provided.
Kayrros estimated the source of the plume’s location was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Rush Lake Compressor station. It was even closer to a TC Energy Corp. pipeline that’s part of a vast network that transports natural gas from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin to eastern Canada and the U.S.
“We cannot confirm that the image presented was caused by our maintenance work,” SaskEnergy said in an email. “The release was unavoidable for safety reasons. When staff work on equipment it has to be in zero energy safe state, which means any pressurized gas and all electricity needs to be shut down.”
TC Energy said in a statement that it wouldn’t “comment or speculate on third-party information or unvalidated imagery and data.”
Canada is among a group of nations, including the U.S. and the EU, that support a collective goal of cutting methane emissions at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade, with reductions coming from the fossil fuel industry, agriculture and waste.
Still, the Canada Energy Regulator said the companies it oversees don’t have to inform it when they intentionally flare or vent gas. Accidental releases must be disclosed, but the agency said none were reported that coincided with the plume.
Multiple studies have found methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are often higher than what operators and governments report. Releases of the odorless, colorless gas from the U.S. supply chain in 2015 were about 60% higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate, a 2018 study published in Science found.
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. The International Energy Agency earlier this month called on fossil fuel operators to do more to curb methane emissions to avoid the worst of global warming.
Many global oil and gas operators have said they are committed to reducing the methane intensity of their operations by cutting back on intentional emissions. The industry is under pressure to respond to increasing investor scrutiny on environmental issues. Still, many operators continue to justify releases as a part of normal operations.
In April, the most severe methane plume ever spotted in Canada based on ESA satellite data analyzed by Kayrros — with an estimated emissions rate of 79 metric tons an hour — coincided with a planned release by TC Energy unit Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. The company at the time declined to provide an estimate for how much methane may have been emitted and said it couldn’t confirm if the satellite observation was related to the event, known within the industry as a blowdown.
A Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources spokeswoman, Jill Stroeder, said the ministry identified two shut-in wells in the area of the Sept. 24 plume and that a field inspection confirmed they are secure and not the source of any methane release.
Making It More About Methane As The World Goes To COP26
Nothing comes quickly in climate diplomacy, and it’s an open question if good things come to those who wait. It took more than two decades from the first-ever global climate summit—or Conference of the Parties, in UN-speak—before the entire world opted into the long project to stop warming. That breakthrough meeting, COP21, is better known by another name: The Paris Agreement.
Now the world heads into COP26 looking for the next breakthrough—and waiting for the rise in planet-warming emissions to change direction. Will Glasgow, like Paris, become a synecdoche for progress? The path forward, and the obstacles, are clear enough. The outcome will take time.
But let’s say we’re impatient. Because we need to be. Climate scientists are speeding up to almost match the blistering pace of extreme weather. Google is pushing at the edge of possibility for powering an immense business without a drop of fossil fuel. What can diplomats and leaders do to deliver faster results?
Let’s start with methane. This supercharged greenhouse gas is found in the atmosphere at 0.5% the volume of carbon dioxide but accounts for about 25% of the temperature rise. We know where it comes from. We know who’s profiting from letting it leak. And, above all, we know cutting methane emissions in half this decade avoids as much as 0.3C of warming by 2050.
That’s the breathing room needed for high-stakes talks in Glasgow and all the COPs that follow. It’s just about the fastest, cheapest fix on the table, with a payoff in cooler conditions in less than a generation. Fast enough for us.
Who Are the World’s Biggest Climate Polluters? Satellites Sweep For Culprits
Global leaders will mull ways to curb greenhouse gases at Glasgow climate summit; technology offers a means to monitor compliance.
Satellites are emerging as a tool to fight climate change, exposing hidden sources of greenhouse gas emissions and allowing governments to monitor compliance with international pacts.
Over the past three years, satellite images have been used to spotlight previously unreported leaks of methane—or to bump up estimates of known emissions—in Russia, Turkmenistan, Texas’ Permian Basin and elsewhere, in some cases triggering international scuffles.
The disclosures have come from private companies, environmental watchdogs and others, some working with data from multipurpose, space-agency-owned satellites. Governments, private companies and environmental groups are also launching dozens of specialized satellites focused solely on scouring the planet for greenhouse gases.
Beyond their use in communications and weather monitoring, satellites have long been a tool to hold adversaries accountable over national security, tracking troop buildups or weapons movements. Their role in monitoring emissions gives nations a new way to use the technology to point fingers at each other.
Several countries have expressed discomfort with satellite imagery potentially becoming fodder for a rival to “name and shame” them for emissions. China, in particular, has made clear it wants to control monitoring within its own borders and considers such satellites a national security issue, said Stephane Germain, chief executive of the Canadian satellite company GHGSat Inc., which monitors emissions.
“The overarching concern is they’re being monitored from space,” Mr. Germain said.
But multinational businesses already use satellites to track everything from Chinese steel production to shopper traffic at suburban American malls, and major oil companies support satellite monitoring as a way to show their compliance with clean-air standards.
Big players including Saudi Aramco and Exxon Mobil Corp. are investors in GHGSat through the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an industry consortium.
A key focus for climate-monitoring satellites is methane, a potent greenhouse gas that leaks erratically from wellheads, pipelines and storage tanks, making it tougher to detect—especially in remote locations and authoritarian countries that don’t allow field inspections or aircraft overflights.
“It’s going to provide leakers with very few places to hide,” said Tim Gould, chief energy economist at the Paris-based International Energy Agency, of satellite monitoring.
At the international climate summit in Glasgow next month, the U.S. and others—including the United Nations, private companies and the European Space Agency—will be among those advocating wider use of satellites for measuring progress toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
‘It’s going to provide leakers with very few places to hide.’
— Tim Gould, IEA chief energy economist, of satellite-based emissions monitoring
Countries have struggled to meet targets they set for reducing emissions under the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, which had no enforcement provisions for those that failed to meet their goals.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has said satellites can be useful in monitoring pollution from China, the world’s top greenhouse-gas emitter and whose government restricts information.
Mr. Kerry signed a joint statement in July saying the U.S. would work with Russia to track emissions by satellite. Russia is the world’s top source of methane emissions from the oil-and-gas industry and the U.S. is No. 2, according to the IEA.
The advent of satellite technology hasn’t been without controversy. After the analytics company Kayrros claimed a big increase in methane emissions from Russia, using open-source data from European Space Agency satellites, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed criticism over the gas and said his country would launch its own satellites.
Beijing has said it is working to verify climate data from the rest of the world. It launched TanSat, also known as CarbonSat, in 2016 to monitor carbon emissions and plans to launch several more emissions-monitoring satellites through 2025, according to state media.
The French national space agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, is working on a satellite-based climate monitoring project with the U.K., called Microcarb.
“Satellites are the best tool,” said CNES science chief Juliette Lambin. “They cover all the world in a few days.”
In the U.S., several public-private partnerships are building emissions-monitoring satellites. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Lab is providing the primary sensor for one of them, Carbon Mapper, a venture that includes partnerships with the state of California and clean-energy and climate-change think tank RMI.
At an airplane hangar in Broomfield, Colo., this summer, scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory gathered to work on a $88 million satellite project called MethaneSAT.
The U.S.-based EDF is building the device with support from the government of New Zealand and others. Set to launch about a year from now, the satellite would be focused on detecting methane emissions globally.
“Russia’s not going to let you overfly their oil field with an airplane. The Middle East—it’s not going to happen,” said Tom Ingersoll, a venture-capitalist fund manager and co-leader of MethaneSAT. “With a satellite, it’s difficult to hide.”
The project is designed to detect methane using a spectrometer, which measures the reflection of sunlight off the Earth’s surface. Every chemical reflects light differently, and MethaneSAT’s sensor is built to target methane’s refractions.
For testing, the scientists put a spectrometer in a Gulfstream jet owned by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which provided funding for the project. The team aimed the spectrometer out of two peach-tinted portholes in the belly of the fuselage. From 45,000 feet over Texas, it was able to detect methane being released from a truck.
The device also caught something else: a large, unexpected methane plume nearby, which the system later revealed to be an unlit flare at an oil well pad.
“Seeing this plume, that’s the moment I knew this is working,” said Jonathan Franklin, a Harvard researcher who is overseeing the calibration of MethaneSAT’s spectrometer.
Once in space, the system will beam data to cloud-computing systems on Earth where algorithms interpret how much methane is in the air and where gas leaks are located.
Oil industry executives and their trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, say they welcome independent satellite-monitoring projects. They are also funding their own efforts, saying that the U.S. industry is a cleaner producer and that satellite data would back that up. In 2020 the U.S. produced 4.7% less in methane emissions than Russia despite producing 34% more oil and gas, according to IEA data.
The industry owns about a third of GHGSat, whose clients include Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chevron Corp.
“Imagine a highly sensitive, accurate satellite that could verify those [methane] emissions and hold all exporting countries to the same standard,” Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said. “That’s a win.”
GHGSat launched two satellites in the past year with resolution fine enough to zoom in on any of the millions of pipelines and wellheads world-wide. It plans to build up to 10 more with $45 million from a second round of fundraising finished in July.
The company drew attention in 2019 when it inadvertently discovered that human-made emissions might be making Turkmenistan one of world’s top methane emitters. GHGSat’s first satellite, “Claire,” which launched in 2016, was scanning for mud volcanoes when it discovered a faulty natural-gas compressor station instead.
A diplomatic effort pushed Turkmenistan to stop those emissions. But other leaks there persist—from pipelines, tanks and flares that are venting raw methane into the air rather than burning, according to GHGSat, which says such leaks are on pace this year to equal the emissions of nearly 10 million cars.
Russia has drawn similar attention. Kayrros, using data from existing European satellites, calculated in April that Russia had a 40% increase last year in methane plumes observed from pipelines and other gas infrastructure. Two months later, Kayrros cited satellite evidence to declare that in 2019 a pipeline in Russia’s Tatarstan was the likely source of the third-worst emissions burst it had ever found.
Supersized Methane Leaks Detected In U.K. Ahead of Climate Summit
The nation hosting crucial COP26 talks to tackle global warming is also home to some of the worst methane emissions in Europe.
One of the most significant outcomes of next week’s COP26 climate summit may be a pledge by dozens of countries to cut emissions of methane, the superpotent greenhouse gas. That will require the U.K. hosts to do some major cleaning up at home.
Britain is the source of some of Europe’s worst methane emissions, according to the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force. The group used a special infrared camera to detect supersized leaks at two sites operated by National Grid Plc outside London.
They were the largest releases found among 200 sites in 12 nations. CATF also discovered plumes from 13 British oil wells, and regular discharges at the Bacton Gas Plant operated by Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
“Everywhere we go, we’re finding leaks and intentional venting of emissions into the atmosphere,” said Jonathan Banks, Clean Air Task Force’s international director for super pollutants. “We shouldn’t be seeing these kinds of large emission sources at sites like this. But it is happening.”
Tackling methane emissions is one of the rare climate solutions that doesn’t require advances in technology. Oil and gas companies have the tools they need right now to stem leaks, which can be done within days of being detected. Engineers often release methane — either by burning it or by venting it straight into the air — while doing maintenance work. The gas can also be captured and sold, or stored underground.
National Grid said that the leaks detected by CATF were caused primarily by maintenance activities and that the company is working to cut methane emissions as a part of its plan to reach net-zero by 2050. Shell declined to comment.
The company has said previously the emissions are the result of a process called venting and are reported in line with regulatory requirements. It’s also carrying out modifications to reduce emissions.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, traps as much as 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere. It also degrades much more quickly, meaning emissions reductions can make a huge difference to global warming.
The methane pact that’s being pushed at COP26 seeks to cut global emissions at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade, potentially reducing global temperatures by 0.2 degrees Celsius by midcentury.
With gas prices soaring due to heavy demand as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, companies and governments should be incentivized to limit leaks coming from oil and gas facilities, according to CATF. The group estimates that enough gas is being lost in Britain to heat over 700,000 homes, assuming a 1.2% leak rate.
“Considering that cutting methane pollution is our best bet to avoid significant warming in the next 20 years, it’s spectacular how much natural gas is being released into the atmosphere,” said James Turitto, who captured the imagery for CATF.
CATF and other organizations that track methane leaks have shown that companies are willing to take action when they are told about fugitive releases. For example, Austrian company OMV AG has said it’s willing to work with non-governmental organizations to find and repair leaky equipment after being shown evidence of discharges from its infrastructure.
The European Union is expected to propose legislation later this year that steps up monitoring and reporting standards for methane, and has signaled it will take measures tackle emissions embedded within imports.
Russia, a key exporter of the fuel to the bloc, hasn’t yet signed up to the global methane pledge but has shown interest in doing so, according to the U.S., who proposed the plan alongside the EU.
“The methane pledge is great but it doesn’t mean anything if countries don’t sit down and start putting together policies to achieve the reductions they have pledged to do,” Banks said. “It’s not rocket science, it’s basic plumbing. We can tackle this problem.”
Big Methane Plume Seen From Space On Day Of Russian Pipe Repair
Operator says it wasn’t able to capture all the gas from disconnected section of pipeline during the work.
Repair work on a natural gas pipeline belonging to the Russian energy giant Gazprom PJSC resulted in a powerful greenhouse gas release in October, coinciding with a large methane plume that was detected by satellite.
A concentration of methane gas was initially spotted via an analysis of satellite data by the geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS near a compressor station in the Nizhny Novgorod region in Western Russia, where state-run Gazprom has operations. Asked about the Oct. 5 observation, Gazprom said it carried out work in the area on that day to eliminate defects found on a pipeline, during which some gas was vented.
The early October release had an estimated emissions rate of 164 tons of methane an hour, according to Kayrros. If the discharge lasted an hour at that rate it would have had the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions of about 8,000 cars in the U.K. Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term.
The release was the fifth most severe identified this year attributed to the Russian oil-and-gas sector, based on the Kayrros analysis of European Space Agency satellite data. It comes amid a global push, led by the U.S. and the European Union, to curb emissions of the greenhouse gas by at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade.
Nearly three dozen nations are expected to join the pledge that already includes Canada, the U.K. and Mexico, at key climate talks starting later this month in Scotland. Russia hasn’t made a commitment yet and has called for emissions-reduction projects to be exempt from sanctions.
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. Russia is the world’s second-largest natural gas producer after the U.S., but its oil-and-gas operations emit more methane than any other nation’s, according to the International Energy Agency.
Gazprom said the release was carried out within established standards, but didn’t disclose the duration of the release or the amount of gas that was vented in the statement.
“The major bulk of the gas from the disconnected section of the gas pipeline was saved and pumped into the operating section of the gas pipeline,” Gazprom said in an emailed response to questions. “A small part of the gas, which was technologically impossible to store, was vented.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s climate envoy, Ruslan Edelgeriyev, said last week that climate projects shouldn’t be subject to sanctions that limit access to financing and technologies, without elaborating on which restrictions he was referring to.
Edelgeriyev indicated Russia could accept more ambitious climate goals if it gets what it wants at the COP26 summit that starts in Glasgow on Oct. 31.
Its position underlines the difficulty of isolating climate change negotiations from wider geopolitical disputes, something the U.S. has repeatedly said it wants to do. Gazprom was among entities sanctioned by the U.S. and the European Union after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Negotiations at COP26 may be complicated by a global energy crisis as demand roars back from the pandemic and ahead of the winter heating season. Europe, which has been particularly hard hit by the crisis with surging electricity prices and petrol shortages, remains highly dependent on Russian gas to meet its energy needs.
Gazprom said in June it was responsible for five methane releases detected by satellite over Russia. The operator said at the time that in all cases it sought to use some of the gas, emissions didn’t exceed government-regulated standards and the events would be included in its environmental reports.
Multiple studies have found methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are often higher than what operators and governments report. Releases of the odorless, colorless gas from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain in 2015 were about 60% higher than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate, a 2018 study published in Science found.
Large Methane Plume Spotted Near China Natural Gas Pipeline
The super potent greenhouse gas was detected in Liaoning near a pipe that runs from the Dalian LNG terminal to Shenyang.
A large plume of methane, the potent greenhouse gas that’s a key contributor to global warming, was spotted by satellite near a natural gas line in northeast China.
The release was detected in Liaoning province near a China Oil & Gas Pipeline Network Corp. pipe that runs from the Dalian LNG terminal to Shenyang on Oct. 20. An emissions rate of 107 tons of methane an hour would have been required to generate the plume, according to an estimate from Kayrros SAS, which analyzed European Space Agency data.
The detection comes as a global effort to curb methane releases accelerates during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, with more than 100 countries signing a pledge to curb emissions of the potent greenhouse gas 30% by 2030. But some of the world’s biggest polluters including Russia, China and India haven’t joined the effort.
If the release lasted an hour at the rate estimated by Kayrros the plume would have had the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions from more than 5,000 U.K. cars.
China Oil & Gas Pipeline Network, known as PipeChina, and the country’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Last week, when asked why the country hasn’t joined the global methane pact, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said that it “attaches high importance to the control of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases” and that it “is ready to work with other parties to advance global cooperation” on reducing them.
In March, China’s latest five-year plan included, for the first time, a pledge to contain the gas that traps roughly 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the initial 20 years after it is released.
Cutting emissions under the Global Methane Pledge is perhaps the biggest single thing governments can do to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Coal Mines Seen Belching Worst Australia Methane Cloud This Year
Concentration of the super-potent greenhouse gas detected by satellite over a top coal-producing region.
The most severe cloud of methane detected in Australia in more than a year was spotted last month by satellite over one of the country’s top coal producing regions.
The Oct. 17 plume was observed over the Bowen Basin in Queensland state and had an estimated emissions rate of 76 metric tons of methane an hour, according to Kayrros SAS, which analyzed observations from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. The geoanalytics company said that given the high concentration of mines in the plume’s vicinity and its shape, it could have originated from multiple sources.
“Intermittent methane releases from underground mines, such as the ones mentioned, are a part of normal operations,’’ Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said in an emailed response to questions. The agency is implementing a methane accounting system using Sentinel data “to assess the implications of methane releases, such as the one observed in the picture provided,’’ to help track emissions.
The nation is facing growing global criticism from climate activists who say it isn’t doing enough to cut emissions. Australia won’t join a global effort led by the U.S. and European Union to curb methane emissions, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said before the start of the COP26 global climate conference now underway in Glasgow.
The initiative, which includes 100 nations, aims to curb methane emissions at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade.
Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure.
Cheap technologies to mitigate coal mine emissions are widely available, according to climate research group Ember, while oil and gas companies can often profit from emissions reductions by selling the corralled methane as natural gas.
Higher methane emissions can result in part due to a region’s geography, and older and deeper coal seams typically emit more gas.
For every ton of coal produced in the Bowen Basin region, an average of 7.5 kilograms of methane is released, a Kayrros analysis found earlier this year. That’s 47% higher than the average global methane intensity estimated by the International Energy Agency, the company said at the time.
“The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources accepts that the Sentinel satellite data is a useful source of information that needs careful consideration,” the Australian agency said in its statement. But the department said that it believes “it is premature to use the satellite data to quantify emissions in a reliable way. ”
If the October release lasted an hour at the rate estimated by Kayrros, it would have the same short-term climate impact as the annual average emissions from more than 3,700 U.K. cars. The plume was the most severe in Australia since a release detected in August last year, that was about 170 kilometers (106 miles) to the north, according to the Kayrros analysis of ESA data.
Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane and existing satellite observations aren’t globally comprehensive. Cloud cover, precipitation and varying light can impact observations and the orbitals also have difficulty tracking releases over water.
Powerful Cloud of Greenhouse Gas Spotted Near Russian Pipeline
Methane plume is worst detected in Russia in nearly a month attributed to oil and gas sector in European Space Agency satellite data analyzed by Kayrros.
A powerful plume of the greenhouse gas methane was spotted earlier this month by satellite near a natural gas pipeline operated by Gazprom PJSC in central Russia.
The concentration of gas was detected Nov. 1 and had an estimated emissions rate of 108 tons an hour, according to Kayrros SAS, which analyzed European Space Agency data. The geoanalytics firm said the plume was detected near Russia’s Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod pipe, which is part of a larger network that transports the gas to Europe through Ukraine.
Gazprom acknowledged emailed requests for comment, sent on Nov. 4, but didn’t answer questions about the emissions event.
The Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod is part of the Brotherhood pipeline network, which is one of the oldest gas conduits linking Russia and Europe. Moscow has argued that the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which still requires approval and runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany, offers cleaner gas because it’s shorter and the infrastructure is newer, thus reducing associated emissions.
The German energy regulator earlier this week suspended the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 operator, saying Gazprom has to comply with the EU rules and set up a German subsidiary to run the pipeline. The move sent European gas prices surging as much as 12%..
Kayrros identified 44 releases from 2019 through Oct. 25 this year within a 60-kilometer (37-mile) corridor along the Brotherhood pipeline and 33 emissions events near the Northern Lights and Yamal-Europe conduits.
If the Nov. 1 event lasted an hour it would have roughly the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions from more than 5,000 cars in the U.K.
These Australian Coal Mines Are Methane Super-Emitters
New estimates based on satellite data show Glencore’s Hail Creek mine spewed 230,000 tons of the powerful greenhouse gas a year in 2018 and 2019.
Just inland of Australia’s east coast, roughly 200 miles from the Great Barrier Reef, a single coal mine run by Glencore Plc emitted so much super-warming methane in a year that it had the same climate warming impact as the annual pollution from more than 4 million U.S. cars.
The Hail Creek coal mine leaked an estimated 230,000 tons of methane a year in 2018 and 2019, according to researchers with SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, who analyzed satellite data from the European Space Agency.
Because methane traps over 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere, the mine had the same short-term warming impact as roughly 19 million tons of CO₂ a year.
The report is one of the first efforts by researchers to quantify just how much methane is coming from individual mines in Australia. Coal itself produces the most CO₂ emissions out of all fossil fuels and nearly 200 countries have agreed on the need to reduce its use to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The new study shows that there’s an added danger: disastrous amounts of methane emitted during the mining process.
The Hail Creek mine is among a handful of coal operations in Australia’s Bowen Basin identified by the researchers as super-emitters, including mines run by BHP Group and Anglo American Plc. Hail Creek, which Glencore took over from Rio Tinto Group in August 2018, was the biggest offender.
It accounts for 20% of Australia’s methane emissions from coal mining even though it produces just 1% of the nation’s coal output, according to the report, published Monday in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.
The researchers grouped five other mines in the Bowen Basin into two clusters because it was difficult to distinguish their individual contributions due to their close proximity.
Broadmeadow, owned jointly by BHP and Mitsubishi Corp., and Anglo’s Moranbah North and Grosvenor mines released 190,000 tons of methane annually in 2018 and 2019, according to the report. Glencore’s Oaky North and Anglo’s Grasstree mines emitted an estimated 150,000 tons of methane a year.
Glencore said its Bowen Basin coal business reports emissions in line with Australia’s requirements. Anglo American said it submits methane emissions annually, by location, to the country’s clean energy regulator and also makes disclosures at a business level in its annual report.
A spokesperson for BMA, BHP’s joint-venture with Mitsubishi, said the company publishes emissions from its Australian operations in accordance with the country’s standards.
None of the operators said how much methane comes from the individual mines identified by the Dutch researchers. BHP spokesman Ben Dillaway told Bloomberg in July its Broadmeadow and Goonyella Riverside mines cumulatively emit an average of about 32,000 tons of methane a year.
The new analysis underscores just how big a problem coal is for Australia, which lags other developed nations in tackling climate change. Although it’s extremely vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures, Australia was among the last advanced economies to set a target to zero out emissions, has been criticized over the credibility of its plan, and refused to join a global pledge to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030.
The findings suggest there may be “a large underreporting of methane emissions in the national inventory,” authors including Pankaj Sadavarte and Ilse Aben wrote. They speculated that the outsize releases from Hail Creek could have come from surface mining operations and efforts to drain gas when expanding the facility.
The research underscores the wide range of climate impacts from different mines. According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s dirtiest coal emits as much as 100 times more methane than cleaner operations.
Most of the methane reductions from coal should come from a “drastic fall” in its use, the IEA said in an October report, though steps to minimize leaks “need to happen in parallel.”
The Dutch researchers estimated that all six mines spewed a combined 570,000 tons of methane a year over the study period, accounting for roughly 55% of the reported methane emissions from coal mining in Australia — despite only contributing about 7% of the nation’s production.
Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said in a March report that it’s “premature to use satellite data to quantify emissions from methane sources.’’
The Dutch scientists used observations from the ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite to estimate daily methane flux rates from the mines and compared those with emissions from global inventories and figures used in Australia’s reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The main caveat with this approach is that the Sentinel-5P “is designed for quantifying methane over large regions rather than precise attribution to individual facilities,” said Riley Duren, chief executive officer of Carbon Mapper. The nonprofit has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
But Duren said that the findings — that just a handful of mines appear to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of emissions — broadly align with what his team has found studying U.S. coal mines in southwest Pennsylvania using instruments with much higher spatial resolution. Just four underground mines in that region appear to be responsible for 22% of total U.S. methane emissions from underground mines, or about 300,000 tons.
The Dutch research is also similar to another analysis by Kayrros SAS. The French geoanalytics firm found earlier this year that for every ton of coal produced in the Bowen Basin, an average of 7.5 kilograms of methane is released. That was 47% higher than the average global methane intensity estimated by the IEA, according to Kayrros.
Geologically older and deeper coal deposits tend to contain more methane than shallower seams, according to the IEA, which is why emissions from surface mines such as Hail Creek tend to be lower than underground mines. But it’s harder to mitigate leaks from open pit reserves, where emissions are often spread over larger areas and more diffuse.
Ilse Aben, one of the Dutch researchers, said they were surprised by the large methane emissions coming from Hail Creek. “I hope getting attention for this forces people to explain what is happening there,” said Aben. “It requires an explanation.”
Powerful Methane Cloud Seen By Satellite Came From Georgia Pipe
U.S. natural gas pipeline operator says a necessary upgrade caused the greenhouse gas emissions.
Williams Cos., one of the biggest transporters of natural gas in the U.S., said an intentional release of a powerful greenhouse gas detected by satellite was caused by work on one of its pipelines.
The cloud of methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide over its first couple of decades in the atmosphere, was spotted over Georgia on Dec. 14 by a European Space Agency satellite.
Geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS analyzed the data and estimated an emissions rate of 14 tons of methane an hour was needed to generate the plume. If the release lasted an hour at that clip, it would have the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions from 255 cars in the U.S.
When contacted by Bloomberg, Williams said it was responsible for the release, which occurred when it upgraded its Transcontinental pipeline system southwest of Atlanta, Georgia.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based operator couldn’t immediately say how much methane was released during the work and said it used “best practices to safely purge air out of the pipeline and reduce methane emissions before returning the pipeline into service.’’
Non-emergency flaring and venting of methane should be significantly mitigated or eliminated to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5° Celsius and to maintain a pathway toward a net zero energy system by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.
The autonomous intergovernmental organization formed after the 1973 oil crisis has increased calls on fossil fuel operators to halt intentional releases of the greenhouse gas.
“If the oil and gas industry is going to claim that it needs to leak or vent methane, then it’s very difficult to see how it can also make the case that natural gas is going to be part of the solution towards achieving our shared climate objectives,’’ Christophe McGlade, head of the energy supply unit at the IEA, said in October when asked about operators who defend intentional releases.
Williams operates over 30,000 miles of pipelines spanning more than 20 states and moves about 30% of the natural gas used in the U.S. for heating, power generation and industrial use.
The company said in a statement it used a construction technique called recompression to prevent emissions while taking the line it was working on out of service.
Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division wasn’t aware of the plume and had no plans to investigate it. “These types of releases are not required to be reported to EPD,” an official said in an email. He added that he’s not aware of any agency in Georgia that regulates methane releases.
Similarly, federal pipeline safety regulations currently don’t require pipeline operators to report intentional releases when the releases are intentional or related to pipeline maintenance and repairs.
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. About 75% of methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry could be cut by 2030, according to the IEA.
The methane cloud in Georgia is one of dozens spotted globally by satellites in 2021 and reported on by Bloomberg.
Previous emissions of the potent greenhouse gas include a release from a pipeline owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy in Oklahoma, a mysterious cloud of the gas over Texas energy fields and a large plume spotted during repair of a Russian pipeline.
Cloud of Potent Greenhouse Gas Spotted Near Pipelines In Iowa
State and federal regulators couldn’t know the source of the methane spotted by satellite on Jan. 20.
A potent cloud of the planet-warming greenhouse gas methane was spotted by satellite earlier this month near natural gas pipelines in Iowa.
State and federal regulators said they couldn’t identify the source of the methane, which is the main component of natural gas and has 80 times the global-warming power of carbon dioxide for the first two decades after it’s released into the atmosphere.
The plume originated within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of a line operated by Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Northern Natural Gas Co. and within 10 kilometers of the Alliance Pipeline run by Enbridge Inc., according to an analysis of European Space Agency satellite data by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS.
Northern Natural Gas “did not experience any abnormal operating conditions in the area’’ around the time of the satellite observation and the company reports required natural gas emissions, spokesman Mike Loeffler said. An Alliance Pipeline representative said the company wasn’t aware of any such release.
There’s no oil, gas or coal production in the vicinity and a U.S. government database that maps most of the country’s major natural gas pipelines doesn’t show any others nearby, according to Kayrros. Local distribution lines aren’t included in the database.
The emissions rate needed to generate the plume was 34 metric tons of methane an hour, Kayrros estimated, which would have had roughly the same short-term climate-warming impact as the annual emissions from more than 600 U.S. cars if it lasted that long.
Northern Natural Gas hasn’t done any work in the area for the last couple of weeks because of cold weather, said Tammie Krausman, an official with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s oil and natural gas companies. The agency wasn’t aware of a release that matched the timing and location of the plume observed by satellite.
The Pipeline and Hazard Materials Safety Administration, a federal agency that regulates pipelines, said it hadn’t received a report of such a release from any operator in the area.
Northern Natural Gas said in October that it released about 21.8 million cubic feet of natural gas over approximately three hours while fixing a leak on one of its U.S. pipelines.
The discharge was one of the worst releases attributed to the oil and gas sector in the U.S. last year, and had the same short-term climate-warming impact as the annual emissions from more than 7,700 U.S. vehicles.
Identifying and halting accidental and intentional methane releases from fossil fuel operations is one of the easiest and most effective steps that can be taken to help keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5° Celsius and to maintain a pathway toward a net zero energy system by 2050.
Landmark Study Validates Satellite Tracking of Giant Methane Leaks
New data on major plumes will help detect powerful leaks in oil and gas operations.
Scientists have used satellite data to identify more than 1,800 major releases of the potent greenhouse gas methane, according to a landmark study published in Science. The research validates a methodology developed in recent years to spot super-emissions from fossil fuel operations.
Large plume events account for between 8% and 12% of all releases from the oil and gas sector and many of them can be mitigated at low cost, according to the report published Friday.
The methane detected by French and American researchers from 2019 and 2020 was concentrated mostly in Russia, Turkmenistan, parts of the U.S., Kazakhstan, Iran and Algeria. As many as 150 clouds were seen by satellite each month, some of which spread for hundreds of kilometers.
Publication of the study in the prestigious journal is the most mainstream acknowledgment so far of the efficacy of using satellites to identify and estimate methane super emissions events.
The approach is poised to play a critical role in detecting, attributing and ultimately halting powerful leaks and intentional releases common in fossil fuel operations.
“Mitigation of ultra-emitters is largely achievable at low costs and would lead to robust net benefits in billions of U.S. dollars for the six major producing countries when incorporating recent estimates of societal costs of methane,’’ the report said.
Among others, the authors include Clement Giron from Kayrros SAS, a French geoanalytics firm, and Riley Duren, chief executive officer of nonprofit Carbon Mapper.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas. It has has 84 times the warming power of CO₂ in the short term if released directly into the atmosphere.
By studying oil and gas super-emission events, the scientists also found a functional relationship between large emissions and smaller, less detectable releases across energy networks.
That finding is important because, when combined with new satellites scheduled to be launched in the coming years, it could help paint a more complete picture of global methane releases.
Glencore Coal Mine In Spotlight As A Methane Hotspot Emerges
Dutch scientists estimate the Hail Creek coal mine emitted hundreds of thousands tons of methane over two years.
Satellite data showing methane emissions near a Glencore Plc coal mine in Australia is putting pressure on one of the world’s largest commodity trading houses to explain the global hotspot.
Scientists at SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research estimated the Hail Creek mine spewed between 123,000 and 263,000 metric tons of methane last year based on concentrations of the super-potent greenhouse gas detected by satellite.
That’s in line with the previous year, for which the researchers estimated the mine emitted 133,000 to 223,000 tons of methane.
The Swiss-based commodities giant, which has continued to mine the dirtiest fossil fuel even as rivals have looked to sell out, posted its highest-ever profit Tuesday.
The amount of methane the researchers estimated spewed from Hail Creek would have the same short-term warming impact as the annual emissions from anywhere between about 2.2 million and 4.8 million U.S. cars each year.
Glencore didn’t confirm the SRON estimate or say how much methane the mine emits. The mine reported net emissions of 503,591 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in the year ended June 2020 to Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator.
Even if that figure only accounted for methane it would fall far short of the SRON estimate. Using a global warming potential factor of 28 — the multiplier used to show the impact over 100 years — it equates to only about 18,000 tons of methane emissions.
The CER said “the agency is of the view that emissions and energy data for the Hail Creek Mine has been reported compliantly.” The department said emissions reports filed by operators are reviewed and assessed for wrongdoing and the vast majority meet their requirements.
Mounting investor pressure will motivate Glencore and other miners to curb methane emissions, said Leonard Quong, an analyst with BloombergNEF in Sydney. “This pressure will grow as more accurate methane measuring technologies become available and as emissions reduction goals get closer.”
Satellite observations of methane have exposed large-scale releases of the potent greenhouse gas globally from coal, oil and natural gas operations.
About 75% of methane releases from the fossil fuel industry must be eliminated by 2030 to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and to maintain a pathway toward a net zero energy system by mid-century, according to the International Energy Agency.
The same SRON scientists who estimated the Hail Creek mine emissions for the last two years were among a larger group of researchers who found that the mine spewed similar levels of methane in 2018 and 2019, according to a paper published in November in Environmental Science & Technology.
The scientists called for the on-the-ground measurements to validate their findings after releasing the new estimates for 2021 and 2020 to Bloomberg.
“You have to try to get closer to your source with measuring equipment to try to find out what is happening,” Ilse Aben, a scientist with SRON said.
Geologically older and deeper coal deposits tend to contain more methane than shallower seams, which is why emissions from surface mines, such as Hail Creek, tend to be lower than underground mines. But the analysis of satellite data suggests that conventional wisdom may not always hold.
Glencore said “questions have been raised about the ability of satellite imagery to correctly or accurately identify, quantify, isolate or attribute different emission sources, particularly in an area with numerous mining operations and without ground based or low level aerial monitoring.”
The operator added that emissions from its Bowen Basin operations are accounted for in its climate targets, which include a 15% reduction in total emissions by 2026 and a 50% cut by 2035.
Other scientists have have also looked at emissions from mines in Australia. Kayrros SAS estimated last year that for every ton of coal produced in the Bowen Basin, an average of 7.5 kilograms of methane is released.
That was 47% higher than the average global methane intensity estimated by the IEA, the French geoanalytics firm said at the time.
Florida Says Methane Cloud Seen From Space Came From Pipeline
The concentration of greenhouse gas spotted by satellite came from a planned release on a natural gas pipeline, according to a state official.
A powerful cloud of the super-warming greenhouse gas methane spotted by satellite this month over Florida was caused by a planned release from a natural gas pipeline operated by Energy Transfer LP, according to a state official.
The emissions are the latest traced back to scheduled and intentional releases by pipeline operators in North America that appear to contravene emissions reduction goals outlined by the International Energy Agency, which has said that routine venting of natural gas must be significantly mitigated or eliminated to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5° Celsius.
A plume of the greenhouse gas was released from a natural gas pipeline in Florida.
A release observed by satellite and described by Bloomberg in an email was caused by planned emissions Feb. 1 from a pipeline run by Florida Gas Transmission Co., a joint venture between Kinder Morgan Inc. and Energy Transfer, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said. The event was also reported separately to the Federal Aviation Administration, she said.
Energy Transfer, co-founded by billionaire Kelcy Warren, said it was “performing some scheduled work on our pipeline at that time’’ and declined to say how much natural gas it released, or if it employed any mitigation approaches that can significantly reduce releases during maintenance.
The FAA issued temporary flight restrictions for Feb. 1 within 1 nautical mile and 2,000 feet (610 meters) elevation of a point in Branford, Florida, citing “gas venting.” Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, is highly flammable. It also has 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the short-term if released directly into the atmosphere.
“Aside from rare over-pressurization events there is almost always a mitigation method that can reduce methane released into the atmosphere as much as 90% during pipeline work,’’ Pipeline Safety Trust Executive Director Bill Caram said. “There is no financial incentive for pipeline operators to minimize these methane releases since operators are compensated for this gas through provisions in regulated rates. Ultimately, consumers are the ones paying for these climate-wrecking gas releases.’’
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates the Florida Gas Transmission pipeline said it hasn’t “received reports of a release from any regulated entity in the areas identified.’’ The agency also said its working on rules that would require regulators to take steps to minimize emissions.
The plume originated within 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of the Florida Gas Transmission pipeline, according to an estimate from Kayrros SAS, which analyzed European Space Agency satellite data. The geoanalytics firm estimated an emissions rate of 40 metric tons of methane an hour would have been needed to generate the cloud of gas.
If the event lasted for an hour at that rate it would have roughly the same short-term climate warming impact as the annual emissions from 730 U.S. cars.
China’s Energy Sector Methane Emissions Dwarf U.S. And Russia
The world’s largest coal producer accounted for roughly a fifth of all the methane spewed by the global energy industry last year, according to the IEA.
China’s coal operations spewed so much methane last year that it had the same global warming impact as all the carbon dioxide emissions from international shipping.
The nation’s energy sector, the world’s largest coal producer, accounted for roughly a fifth of total global methane emissions from oil, gas, coal and biomass.
It generated over 50% more than the next largest emitters: Russia and the U.S. The estimates, which are the latest from the International Energy Agency’s Methane Tracker, show the enormity of China’s task in mitigating its methane pollution.
“China has encouraged miners to utilize more methane produced during the mining process but there remain major obstacles,” said Nannan Kou, an analyst with BloombergNEF in Beijing. “Capturing the gas requires a lot of capital investment and most mines aren’t near major gas transmission pipelines.”
Different entities are often responsible for extracting coal and any methane produced, making efforts to curb emissions more complicated, he added.
China’s National Energy Administration and its Ministry of Ecology and Environment didn’t answer questions sent by fax seeking comment.
The report, released last week, also highlighted the gap between methane releases detected by satellite and emissions reported by nations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Many countries compile that data by essentially adding up numbers on an excel sheet. A nation might look at its energy system and, for example, count the total number of compressor stations, then multiply that by generic methane release rates for the amount of fuel processed through them.
But that approach can fail to reflect the scale of methane emissions observed by satellite and aerial surveys.
“In many cases countries don’t base their inventories on measured data,” said Christophe McGlade, head of the energy supply unit at the International Energy Agency. “As more and more measurement campaigns are being carried out we are seeing that there is this growing discrepancy.’’
The IEA said global methane emissions from the energy sector exceeded the sum of nationally reported inventories by about 70%. Atmospheric methane increased by a record amount last year, to 1,876 parts per billion, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, helping push global temperatures in 2021 to the fifth-highest ever recorded.
Satellite observations of giant methane leaks are starting to push authorities to update emissions reporting requirements to include more accurate measuring technologies, according to McGlade. One of the major insights from satellite data is that super-emission events can make a big difference to total national inventories.
Although these events can be infrequent and sometimes only last a few hours, oil and gas ultra-emitters account for as much as 12% of global methane emissions from the sector, according to a study published in Science last month.
The French and American scientists who authored the study used satellite observations to identify more than 1,800 major releases of the gas, some of which spread for hundreds of kilometers.
Another factor that has driven the widening divide between satellite-detected and reported emissions is that inventories submitted by many countries, including major fossil fuel producers like Iraq and Nigeria, haven’t been updated in years. The UNFCCC didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
Global energy producers spewed 135 million metric tons of methane last year, a 5% increase from 2020, according to the IEA’s annual assessment, which included country-level estimates for emissions from coal for the first time. That was higher than the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions, which rose 4.3% in 2021.
Much existing research has focused on cutting methane emissions from oil and gas because it’s viewed as the easiest and cheapest solution. Methane from coal has escaped some of that same scrutiny because production of the fossil fuel needs to be drastically reduced to meet climate goals anyway.
But taking into account methane from coal paints a dramatically different picture of global emissions. It caused China to become the No. 1 emitter in the IEA’s latest update, from sixth place in its 2021 report, when emissions were estimated from oil and gas and didn’t include the dirtiest fossil fuel.
China has declined to join an international effort to curb methane led by the U.S. and EU, but has said it’s working on a plan to contain emissions. The country’s coal sector offers Beijing the biggest opportunity to cut its methane emissions, according to an analysis from the United Nations.
Methane can also escape into the atmosphere from landfills and agricultural activities. But those kinds of emissions are more difficult to control; we have the tools we need right now to stem releases from the energy sector.
Almost all methane emissions from oil and gas can be avoided at no net cost because the extra gas can be captured and sold, according to the IEA, and there are “significant opportunities” to cut coal methane.
“Such a strong alignment of cost, reputational and environmental considerations should push the oil and gas sector to lead the way with methane emissions reductions,” the IEA said. The agency said oil and gas operators should stop setting targets to cut emissions only as a proportion of production, and instead “adopt a zero-tolerance approach.”
Methane Cloud Spotted In Texas Shale Basin Near Gas Pipelines
Federal pipeline and state regulators said they weren’t informed of the release that was observed by satellite on Feb. 11.
A cloud of methane was spotted by satellite over the Eagle Ford shale basin in Texas last month, near oil and gas production areas and natural gas pipelines.
The release of the super-potent greenhouse gas was about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Energy Transfer LP’s Houston pipe and another line identified as Energy Transfer in a U.S. government database, according to an analysis of satellite data by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS.
The plume was also near an active part of the Eagle Ford shale production basin, in which there are multiple wells that could have been responsible for the release.
Energy Transfer, founded by billionaire Kelcy Warren, didn’t respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.
The federal regulator of interstate pipelines, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in an email it hadn’t received reports of a release from any regulated entities in the area.
Under the 2020 Pipes Act, pipeline operators are required to take steps to minimize emissions — including releases related to routine work — and to update their maintenance and inspections plans with procedures that minimize emissions. PHMSA said it began enforcement of sections of the law this year.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it wasn’t aware of the plume and didn’t receive any reports of emissions for the period and area. The release “does not appear to be the type of information that would prompt an investigation,’’ and the agency doesn’t monitor for the greenhouse gas “because there is not a statute or rule that can be enforced on.’’
Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, has 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
Curbing intentional releases and accidental leaks from the oil and gas industry is seen by scientists as some of the lowest hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.
Global methane emissions from the energy sector exceed what nations have reported by about 70%, the International Energy Agency said in an update of its annual Methane Tracker, released last month.
The Paris-based group has said operators should move beyond methane intensity targets and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to emissions of the gas.
The Feb. 11 event in Texas had an estimated emissions rate of about 25 metric tons of methane an hour, according to Kayrros. If the release lasted an hour at that rate it would have the equivalent short-term climate impact as the annual emissions from roughly 450 U.S. cars.
Powerful Clouds of Methane Spotted In Alabama Coal Country
The potent greenhouse gas was observed by satellite near a coal basin that’s been active for more than a century.
Powerful clouds of the greenhouse gas methane have been observed by satellite near a coal-mining basin in Alabama, highlighting an often overlooked climate impact from the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Since mid-February at least three plumes were observed by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite that originated near the Black Warrior Basin, according to an analysis of the data from Kayrros SAS.
The plumes could have been generated by multiple sources, the geoanalytics firm said.
The estimated locations for each of the releases were within 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) of five mines or mine clusters owned or operated by Warrior Met Coal Inc., RJR Mining Co. and Southland Resources, according to location and ownership data in Global Energy Monitor’s coal mine database. Another mine owned by Peabody Energy Corp. was within about 12 miles of two of the plumes.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, can be released from the ground during mining when rock strata or coal seams are fractured.
The greenhouse gas traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere, and halting its intentional release during the production and transport of fossil fuels is viewed by scientists as some of the lowest hanging fruit in the fight against a warming planet.
Northern Alabama has active coal, gas and oil production. Satellite observations over the region since January 2019 show dozens of releases of the super-potent gas.
The state’s Department of Environmental Management said it did not appear there were any pipeline leaks in the areas on the dates of the observations and there were no reported issues from mines that would have resulted in the releases.
Warrior Met Coal said it publicly discloses mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting and said it wasn’t aware of any activities that would have caused abnormal emissions from its mines.
No one answered a phone number listed online for RJR Mining, and Southland Resources didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Peabody said it hasn’t encountered any methane pockets that would cause a release.
At least one of the recent plumes was identified within about 10 miles of a pipeline owned by Southern Natural Gas, although the wind direction at the time wasn’t consistent with a release coming from the line, according to Kayrros.
A spokeswoman for Southern Natural Gas’s parent company, Kinder Morgan Inc., said its operations didn’t cause the release.
More methane is emitted from coal mines globally than either oil or gas, according to analysis released this month by the non-profit Global Energy Monitor, which determined that emissions of the gas from coal mines fall 11% each year for the rest of the decade to maintain a transition pathway that avoids the worst of climate change, according to the report.
Coal mines can continue emitting methane for years after they are closed or abandoned if they aren’t sealed once production has ceased. There’s been active coal mining began in Alabama for more than a century.
NOAA: Potent Heat-trapping Methane Increases At Record Pace
Global atmospheric levels of the potent but short-lived greenhouse gas methane increased a record amount last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, worrying scientists because of the large role methane has in climate change.
The preliminary airborne level of methane jumped 17 parts per billion, hitting 1895.7 parts per billion last year. It’s the second year in a row that methane rose at a record rate with 2020 going up 15.3 ppb over 2019, according to NOAA.
Methane levels are now way more than double pre-industrial levels of 720 parts per billion, said Lindsay Lan, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and the University of Colorado.
Methane is a big contributor to climate change, leading to about a 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) increase in temperature since the 19th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carbon dioxide has caused about 50% more warming than methane.
“This trend of accelerating increase in methane is extremely disturbing,” said Cornell University methane researcher Robert Howarth.
Methane is about 25 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But it only lasts nine years in the air instead of thousands of years like carbon dioxide, Lan said.
Because it doesn’t last in the air long, many nations last year agreed to target methane for quick emission cuts as low hanging fruit in the global efforts to limit future warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.
The world has already warmed 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2 to 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
“To limit warming to well-below 2C this century, we need to cut our methane emissions dramatically, and today we are clearly moving in the wrong direction,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of Stripe and Berkeley Earth said in an email.
“Cutting methane has strong immediate climate benefits, as it is the only greenhouse gas for which emission reductions can quickly cool the climate (versus slowing or stopping the rate of warming).”
NOAA Has Been Tracking Methane Levels In The Air Since 1983
Lan said early signs point more to natural causes for the methane jump, because of La Nina, the natural and temporary cooling of parts of the Pacific that change weather worldwide, but it’s still early. La Nina tends to make it rain more in some tropical regions and the two years in a row of record increases during La Nina points to methane escaping from wetlands, she said.
Methane is also a natural gas and an increasingly used energy source. Much methane comes out of livestock and human-generated agriculture, as well as from landfills. Scientists also fear future release of trapped methane under the ocean and in frozen Arctic land, but there’s no indication that’s happening on a large scale.
The key question is whether this increasing trend could add to climate change problems or is a pandemic-related blip due to the decrease in methane-destroying nitrous oxides from less car and industrial pollution, said Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson.
“It seems to be something else instead of COVID,” Lan said. She figures high levels in 2020 and then even higher levels in 2021, when lockdowns were eased, point away from a pandemic effect.
Both fossil fuels and agriculture are key in methane increases, Howarth said. But he said, “my research strongly points toward fossil fuels as being the largest cause of the increase since 2008, with increase emissions from shale gas production from fracking in the U.S. being a major part of that.”
In a study last year, Lan looked at the chemical isotopes to isolate where steady increases in methane emissions since 2006 may be coming from. The chemical signature pointed away from fossil fuels as the bigger guilty party and more toward either natural wetland emissions or agriculture, she said.
NOAA also said carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere last year increased 2.66 parts per million over 2020, one of the higher increases in history but not a record. The annual average for 2021 for carbon dioxide was 414.7 parts per million. Pre-industrial is about 280 parts per million.
NOAA said carbon dioxide are now the highest since about 4.3 millions year when the sea level was about 75 feet (23 meters) higher and the average temperature was about 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.9 degrees Celsius) warmer.
“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said NOAA chief Rick Spinrad said in a statement.
As Gas Prices Soar, Nobody Knows How Much Methane Is Leaking
No one knows how long natural gas had been seeping out of a meter at the Greenville Downtown Airport in South Carolina. A satellite chartered by Duke Energy Corp., the power company for the airport, eventually spotted the billowing greenhouse gas, and workers came to fix the leak.
But in the intervening time between leak and discovery, an untold amount of methane—the main component of natural gas—escaped into the atmosphere. For the next two decades, all that gas will trap 84 times more heat than a similar amount of carbon dioxide.
Duke says it’s the first U.S. utility to use satellites to search their own infrastructure for invisible leaks, both to save fuel that’s rarely commanded today’s skyrocketing prices and to help stem global warming. The company’s blindness to a dangerous methane plume from its own infrastructure surprised executives.
And it underscores an even more concerning fact about the global energy industry: those involved in extracting, moving and burning oil and gas aren’t required to know anything about the actual volume of planet-warming pollution being released into the air.
Lost gas from gaping leaks in pipelines and storage tanks isn’t just a climate catastrophe—it’s now an acute economic setback as well. Fallout from the two-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine has intensified a worldwide energy crunch and set off a scramble to secure new supplies of natural gas.
U.S. natural gas futures have been holding near a 13-year high after hitting $8 in April, just as Russia halted gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria last week in an escalating use of energy as a geopolitical weapon.
But the rush to build new gas infrastructure is being undertaken without accurate measurements on how much gas is being wasted from existing pipelines and tanks. Estimates of the losses are based on emissions projections that prove to be disconnected from reality, which means the warming impact is also severely undercounted.
While almost 8,000 power plants, oil and gas companies and refineries in the U.S. report their emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency each year, experts say those figures drastically underestimate the contribution to rising temperatures from the industry.
Even with new methane-detecting technologies available, companies aren’t obligated to physically monitor infrastructure, and federal regulators rarely collect data of their own.
Disclosure comes down to companies simply tallying figures—for example, how many gas wells they have—and applying an outdated formula developed by the EPA that assigns an assumed emissions rate.
David Lyon, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit group, estimates that the approach undercounts U.S. methane emissions by about 50%. Duke, for its part, acknowledges it doesn’t have data that would dispute such an assessment.
“We don’t know yet the delta between what we report to the EPA and what we think it is,” says Sasha Weintraub, head of Duke’s natural gas business. The company just expanded the satellite program to Charlotte, North Carolina. “Hopefully,” adds Weintraub, “that’ll give us a flavor of what our actual emissions are.”
Accurately tracking those emissions, and figuring out how to stop them, is one of the most urgent tasks needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Methane’s potent heat-trapping power, and the fact that it degrades more rapidly than carbon dioxide, makes curbing it one of the quickest ways to cool the planet.
The issue has risen to the top of the global climate agenda, with the U.S. seeking to position itself as a leader in counteracting methane leaks. At the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow last year, U.S. diplomats along with their European counterparts got more than 100 countries to pledge to cut methane emissions 30% by the end of the decade.
At home, meanwhile, the EPA proposed new rules to cut leaks by the oil and gas industry. They include a requirement to scan well sites with specialized infrared cameras every quarter and undertake “prompt repair” of leaks.
But U.S. regulators are working under a flawed set of assumptions. Energy companies calculate emissions to regulators using equations for infrastructure in a well-maintained condition, says Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University who studies methane and has contributed to the United Nation’s authoritative reports on climate change.
Yet ruptures are showing up in pipelines and compressor stations all over the country. “We don’t really know how much methane is coming out of fossil fuel systems, Shindell says, “because they leak.”
Even leak-conscious energy companies can be surprised when they survey their operations for the first time.
Triple Crown Resources is an oil and gas driller with operations in the Permian Basin in Texas that’s invested heavily to make sure it can store natural gas properly.
So when Triple Crown hired Kairos Aerospace to fly small planes over its system with infrared methane-detecting cameras in late 2020, it expected the leak rate to be pretty close to what it calculated using the EPA equation: about 0.2% of the total gas.
Ryan Keys, the co-founder and president, recalls the day his team first saw the results of the flyover. The group had gathered for its weekly operations meeting, with some people sitting in a room at its Dallas office while others watched via Zoom from the field.
“It was a shock,” says Keys. “We found we were leaking over 4%. We were leaking 20 times more than what the EPA said we were leaking, and we’re not special.”
Investment and careful maintenance hadn’t kept Triple Crown’s system from leaking huge amounts of gas. The company sent workers to fix the leaks and installed sensors to continuously monitor for methane.
Keys estimated that last year his company saved about $1.8 million by preventing 400 million cubic feet of gas from escaping.
Triple Crown has since conducted six more flyover inspections, dropping its leak rate down to the 0.2% figure it originally reported to the EPA. But Keys isn’t reassured. The method of calculating emissions preferred by the U.S. regulator is “perverse,” he says, because it creates a false sense of security among oilfield operators.
“The EPA says I’m good, so I’m not going to do s—t,” Keys says, summarizing the views of other Permian Basin operators.
Enesta Jones, a spokeswoman for the EPA, says the agency is considering changes to its greenhouse gas reporting program that would improve the quality and consistency of data. But she also defended the current rules, saying all calculations and monitoring have gone through public consultation processes that included environmental groups.
“We were leaking 20 times more than what the EPA said we were leaking, and we’re not special”
Former EPA employees acknowledge the system is deeply flawed. The federal government shouldn’t rely on companies to report emissions now that independent monitoring is possible, says Judith Enck, a regional administrator for the EPA under President Obama.
A more realistic equation would also help, she says. The EPA “has to factor in real-life conditions.”
The agency estimates that 1.4% of all natural gas produced in the U.S. is leaked into the air, according to a recent Stanford University study in which researchers strapped specialized cameras to small planes.
The flights peeked down onto about 26,000 oil and gas wells and found the figure was likely much higher at 9%.
Bottom-up calculations like those used by the EPA lead to a “substantial undercount” of methane emissions, says Alexandra Tietz, a former EPA employee who later worked in Obama’s Interior Department.
Companies should be doing more frequent and sensitive leak detection, for example by using a combination of handheld infrared cameras on the ground and flyovers like the one Triple Crown conducted.
“Companies can’t control emissions they don’t know are happening,” Tietz says.
Growing awareness of the enormous scope of lost gas hasn’t eliminated the underlying mystery behind exactly which companies are responsible for some of the biggest plumes.
In January, for example, a satellite operated by the European Space Agency spotted a massive methane release over multiple gas pipelines and active oil and gas wells in Louisiana. Releases can be far larger—and done deliberately to facilitate repairs or upgrades—rather than the smaller, accidental leaks that plague the industry.
The methane cloud spotted over Louisiana had the same climate impact as the annual emissions from almost 2,000 cars, according to geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS. The state launched an investigation after an inquiry from Bloomberg News, but the source was never found. No companies stepped up to take responsibility.
It’s a story repeated all over the globe. Big leaks and releases in Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran increased those countries’ methane emissions by as much as 20% compared with official national figures reported to the United Nations, according to a study by an international team of researchers published in the journal Science earlier this year.
Super leaks in Turkmenistan, the central Asian oil-rich nation controlled by a secretive dictator, have doubled its annual carbon output.
When researchers in Canada measured methane emissions at about 7,000 sites across the country’s oil and gas infrastructure, they found that the industry underestimated actual emissions by a factor of 1.5.
This kind of chronic undercounting calls into question the very idea that natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal. Gas leakage of more than about 3% makes the fuel worse for the climate than coal, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences.
“Methane emissions tend to be higher from natural gas than from coal,” says Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. “It does not take huge methane emissions to make up for the lower CO₂ emissions from natural gas.”
A clearer understanding of the true impact from methane might do little to diminish the drive to expand gas supplies as the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine intensifies.
European nations like Germany, looking to secure new gas supplies rather than continue relying on Russian imports, could end up building infrastructure that will lock in gas consumption for decades.
Germany is already planning a new natural gas terminal to wean itself off Russian imports. And European countries like Denmark may even try to extract more gas at home. Just as the full toll of methane emissions comes into focus, the war in Ukraine could deepen dependency on natural gas.
Duke is well aware that its financiers want the industry to take methane leaks more seriously. It is a public company, after all, and utility investors have made clear they want to see emission cuts and at least some sort of climate goal.
Duke’s plan to use satellites to spot leaks is part of a push to reach net-zero methane emissions in its natural gas business by 2030. It also conserves gas, which is getting more expensive.
That doesn’t mean Duke is doing all it can to slow global warming, at least in the eyes of climate advocates. The company has faced criticism for its continued coal generation and for considering the construction of new gas plants. A report from Sierra Club last year gave the company a grade of “F.”
And the climate think tank InfluenceMap recently noted that the American Gas Association, an industry group that counts Duke as a member, asked lawmakers last year to weaken or eliminate a proposed fee on methane emissions.
(A Duke spokeswoman said natural gas is an important part of the company’s carbon reduction goals.)
Still, there’s little downside to plugging methane leaks. Companies like Duke can build goodwill while saving more product to sell. Weintraub, Duke’s head of natural gas, says satellites allow the company to focus its efforts on fixing leaks rather than spending lots of time looking for them.
Duke currently buys one flyover a month from a Maxar Worldview-3 satellite that gathers images from about 400 miles above the earth. Microsoft Corp. and Accenture Plc then crunch the data to identify which of the methane plumes spotted by satellite are coming from its sites.
The method can detect leaks as small as 40 parts per million, accurate enough to tie it to an individual meter on one home in a neighborhood full of houses. “We will all be better off, regardless of the size, getting rid of these methane leaks,” says Weintraub.
Methane Is A Big Climate Problem That Bitcoin Can Help Solve
The digital currency consumes a lot of electricity, but one startup is showing how its unique properties can help transition the world to cleaner energy.
“ExxonMobil is mining Bitcoin.”
That unlikely headline was recently splashed across major business publications. In a project that began in January 2021, Exxon teamed up with the startup Crusoe Energy Systems Inc. to use excess gas from its North Dakota oil fields to mine Bitcoin.
Here’s why: The oil production process gives off gas as a byproduct. For logistical reasons, not all of the gas can be captured and transported. Common industry practice is to burn the extra gas. Called “flaring” in industry parlance, the practice is very bad for the environment.
By one measure, flaring is responsible for 1% of man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions globally. Even worse is the release of methane: As Scientific American put it, “while CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, or even millennia, methane warms the planet on steroids for a decade or two before decaying to CO2.”
Crusoe is able to use the excess gas in a process it calls digital flare mitigation. The startup has built dozens of mobile data centers that are placed onto oilfield sites where flaring takes place.
“People have tried to solve flaring for a long time,” Crusoe CEO Chase Lochmiller tells me. “But the standard chemical engineering approaches like compression or liquefaction don’t make sense economically.”
Enter Bitcoin: The digital asset maintains its record of transactions through a process that requires a lot of computing power to solve math puzzles. Bitcoin miners receive rewards for solving these puzzles.
It is this incentive that provides the economics for Crusoe to deploy a technology able to divert gas from flaring.
Last month, Crusoe raised $350 million in a Series C funding round. It already operates in North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado but will use the funds to expand into other areas where flaring is widespread: the Permian Basin (Texas), Argentina, Oman and Abu Dhabi.
Lochmiller told Bloomberg TV that if the 14 billion cubic feet of gas that gets flared every day could be harnessed for computing, you could power the whole Bitcoin network eight times over.
When selecting new sites, Crusoe makes sure it’s not creating new demand for gas. Typically, the startup takes on projects where gas is a byproduct of an existing oil well operation.
“It’s a fine line to walk,” Lochmiller says of choosing sites to work on. “We are in the business of reducing emissions.”
While Bitcoin provides a climate-friendly alternative to flaring, a critic might point out that the entire digital network is an energy sink that is net-net bad for the environment.
Does Bitcoin use a lot of electricity? Yes.
The International Energy Agency notes that Bitcoin consumes about 100 terawatt hours of electricity (0.3% of total global consumption). Data center and data transmission networks — which power everything from Snap DMs to Netflix shows to medical research — consume a total of 460-590 terawatt hours (1.4%-1.8%).
Not all electricity consumption is equal, though. Coal plants are obviously worse than wind power, so it’s worth considering that renewable energy sources make up 39% of Bitcoin’s total energy consumption (vs. 17% for U.S. electricity production).
If you assign zero value to Bitcoin, then the electricity consumption is a complete waste. But even a skeptic has to acknowledge Bitcoin’s achievements: It currently has a $752 billion market cap and there are more than 1 million active Bitcoin wallets.
To Lochmiller, data centers are not criticized as much as Bitcoin because people “see value” in them.
If you accept the premise that Bitcoin has real-world value, consider also that it has two key attributes that can help transition the world to cleaner energy:
Distributed operation: Bitcoin mining is highly distributed. A mobile data center can make it economical to unlock stranded renewable energy resources.
Interruptible Workload: Mining operations can turn on and off at a moment’s notice, which helps to stabilize energy grids.
When demand is low, Bitcoin mining can consume the otherwise unused electricity. When demand is high — say, household consumption in the evening — miners shut down without a hitch.
“Bitcoin mining is the best buyer of last resort,” Lochmiller explains. “Few industrial use cases can use lots of energy like Bitcoin and shut down in 5 minutes. You can’t do that for an aluminum smelting plant.”
Wind and sun power famously have an intermittency issue (the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow). Deployed properly, Bitcoin mining operations could also conceivably subsidize the build-out of renewable energy sources.
For Crusoe, it’s not only about Bitcoin. The company believes that a mobile, low-cost and energy-efficient data center is a solution that can sustainably power all forms of computing tasks in the future from AI to graphics rendering to digital assets. And to that end, its technology is also being tested with wind-farm projects.
“The ability to source, harness and use energy is a sign of a productive society,” says Lochmiller. “So the use of energy is not a bad thing, so long as we can mitigate harmful climate effects.”
Until the grid is liberated from fossil fuels, helping to mitigate the problem of flaring would be a big step.
A 67-Foot Pipeline Rupture In Texas Triggered Massive Methane Plume
Photos from Railroad Commission of Texas show a blowout on Big Cowboy pipeline.
A pipeline rupture longer than a bowling lane was responsible for a massive release of the potent greenhouse gas methane over Texas in March, spewing the equivalent of annual emissions from 16,000 American cars into the atmosphere.
Photos of the rupture show a nearly 67-foot (20-meter) long tear along the 16-inch diameter Big Cowboy natural gas pipeline excavated from a dirt road in a remote corner of Texas.
The images were obtained through a public information request to the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulator that oversees oil and gas production in the state.
The pipeline operator, a unit of Energy Transfer LP, has said in regulatory filings that the rupture resulted in a release of 52.15 million cubic feet of gas.
Big Cowboy is part of a vast web of gathering lines in the US that have operated outside the purview of federal authorities because historically they were smaller diameter, low pressure lines deemed less of a risk than the transmission conduits that cross state boundaries.
But the massive gas release in March underscores how the failure of even small parts of the US gas network can have profound consequences for the climate.
The pipeline likely experienced a “longitudinal seam rupture failure” based on the photos, although a scientific metallurgical forensic analysis is needed to confirm that assessment, said Richard Kuprewicz, a chemical engineer and president of Accufacts Inc., which specializes in gas and liquid pipeline investigations.
The only way to reliably avoid that sort of failure is to perform a spike hydrotest, which isn’t mandated for gathering lines under federal requirements, he said.
Energy Transfer disputed Kuprewicz’s assessment and said that it has ruled out a longitudinal seam rupture as a cause, without saying why. The pipe was strength tested at 1.25 times its maximum allowable operating pressure in 1993 before it entered service, the company said.
The Energy Transfer unit detected a failure in its control center at 8:35 a.m. local time March 17 and the system was shut in and isolated by 8:48 a.m. Workers reached the site of the failure at 1:23 p.m. the same day, according to an incident report obtained through the public information request. The pipeline was repaired and restarted March 20.
The damaged section of pipe has been sent to a lab for analysis and an investigation into what caused the failure is underway. The incident report described the apparent cause of the rupture as “unknown” and didn’t attribute the failure to corrosion.
The release was about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of the estimated source location of a severe cloud of methane spotted by a European Space Agency satellite on March 17 at 2:23 p.m. local time, according to an analysis of the observation by Kayrros SAS.
The estimated emissions rate for the plume of 147 metric tons of methane an hour makes it the worst the French geoanalytics company has attributed to the US oil and gas sector in more than a year.
Study Finds Higher Density of Gas Leaks Where People of Color Live
Places with higher shares of people of color and lower incomes experienced, on average, a greater density of dangerous methane leaks from local pipeline systems.
A new study found a greater density of dangerous leaks from gas pipelines in US urban areas where there’s a higher proportion of people of color, raising questions about the unequal distribution of risks that comes with using the highly combustible fuel for energy.
The researchers strapped devices onto Google Street View cars to detect leaks of methane — the main component of natural gas — and combined that information with census data to see if the releases correlated with factors such as race, income and English-language fluency.
They found that, on average, across thirteen US urban metro areas, neighborhoods with higher percentages of minorities and lower earnings experienced a greater density of leaks.
Older pipelines have a greater tendency to leak but many factors can contribute to infrastructure disparities including historical inequalities, lack of leak reporting by residents and insufficient regulation, the scientists wrote in a paper published Wednesday in Environmental Science & Technology. They relied on methane data collected between 2014 and 2018.
“This data offers a way forward to address how public utilities are maintained and to ensure the services they offer are equitable,” said Joe von Fischer, one of the authors and a professor at Colorado State University. “It allows for transparency and public accountability.”
The paper didn’t identify utilities that provide gas distribution services in the 13 metro areas studied; the authors provided the information separately.
Four of the areas were excluded from individual analysis because there weren’t enough leaks detected, although the information gathered there was included in the overall study that covered areas home to 4.5 million people.
In eight of the remaining nine metro areas, the authors estimated that leak density increased with a rise in the share of people of color, although the magnitude of the association and overall leaks per mile surveyed varied.
Metro areas the researchers analyzed on an individual level and associated gas utilities.
National Grid, which operates in four of the areas highlighted in the paper, said it uses “the same criteria for repair in all of our communities that we serve” and that it “continually upgrades the gas infrastructure based on our own commitment to safety and in coordination with federal and local state guidelines and regulations.”
Atmos Energy, which serves the Dallas region, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment about the academic report.
The study also found a strong correlation between the age of housing and leaks, and several utilities noted they have invested heavily in replacing old pipes.
“We have been replacing rapidly corroding cast iron pipes that date back as far as the 1800s, literally the era of President Abraham Lincoln,” the Peoples Gas utility that serves Chicago said.
The utility isn’t related to entities with the same name in Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. “We’re doing the work across all of Chicago, in every neighborhood, for the benefit of every person who lives and works here.”
Peoples Gas in Florida said it repaired 13 non-hazardous leaks in its gas system after a methane mapping survey was done in the Jacksonville area.
The utility said that legacy pipes made from obsolete materials such as cast iron and bare steel are more prone to leaks, and since 2012 it’s replaced more than 600 miles of legacy pipes.
Utilities should prioritize repairs and replacement of infrastructure in marginalized communities when all other risks and costs are equal, the authors recommended. Advanced leak detection methods that use newer technologies can also reduce burden on the public, they said.
Incidents in recent years have highlighted the risk of neglected pipelines. A 12-year old girl in Dallas was killed and four other people injured after a home gas leak in 2018 triggered an explosion, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The same year explosions and fires rocked the cities of three cities in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts killing one person, burning more than 100 homes and displacing thousands, according to NBC Boston.
Europe Faces An Old Methane Hotspot In Rush to Exit Russian Gas
New scientific research suggests a giant gas field in North Africa has been emitting the super potent greenhouse gas for decades.
A giant gas field in North Africa that Europe is banking on to make up for its shortfall in Russian imports risks complicating the bloc’s climate goals.
The Algerian facility has been leaking methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, for nearly four decades, according to an analysis funded by Greenpeace of satellite data originally collated by scientists at Spain’s Valencia Polytechnic University.
The findings highlight the global warming impact of a country that provides about 8% of Europe’s gas imports and is the continent’s biggest supplier after Russia and Norway.
The Hassi R’Mel gas field has been leaking the powerful greenhouse gas for nearly four decades.
The most potent and persistent emissions were traced back to a compressor station at Hassi R’Mel, which helps transport gas to Europe and elsewhere.
Algeria has the third-highest methane intensity of production among selected global oil and gas suppliers, according to the International Energy Agency, and the Hassi R’Mel basin is acknowledged as a global methane hotspot by scientists who study satellite data.
But the new analysis adds to pressure on European Union lawmakers who have been looking to tighten controls of leaks from within the bloc and from key sources outside the continent.
“The danger now is that Algeria holds more of the cards” because of the EU’s efforts to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels makes it more dependent on other suppliers, said Antoine Vagneur-Jones, head of trade and supply chains at clean energy research group BloombergNEF. “Pressuring it to act would be a lot harder than before.”
Methane has 84 times the warming power of CO₂ in the short term if released directly into the atmosphere, and stopping leaks has become a priority for some governments.
Algeria didn’t join more than 100 countries in signing a pledge in November at COP26 in Glasgow to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030.
Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil and gas company that operates the Hassi R’Mel gas field, said its own emissions estimates are “much lower than what is announced elsewhere.”
“We have reduced flared gas emissions from 9 billion to 3 billion cubic meters per year,” said Toufik Hakkar, chief executive officer of Sonatrach. “I would also like to specify that we impose in all contracts with our partners the recovery of flared gases.”
Hakkar said Sonatrach had a meeting with the World Bank and “they told us that our estimates and methodology are good.” Sonatrach will soon publish, in partnership with the Algerian Space Agency, new results that back up their on-the-ground estimates, he said.
Estimating the total amount of emissions from fossil fuel basins can be tricky because the frequency of satellite observations over a given geographic area can be 24 hours or longer.
The researchers at Valencia Polytechnic University estimated emissions rates up to 4.5 metric tons of methane an hour from the compressor station.
The basin spewed an estimated 939,000 tons of methane last year, up 67% from the previous year, according to estimates from geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS, which used an inversion model to measure total emissions from all sources in the basin.
That amount of methane has roughly the same short term climate impact as the annual emissions from about 17 million US cars.
The EU signaled earlier this month that it would pursue decarbonization efforts with Algeria, with a focus on cutting methane emissions. One plan is to set up a “you collect, we buy” program with partner countries, where the bloc would purchase gas that would otherwise be intentionally released or burned off.
The arrangement would incentivize gas companies to save more of their product — whose main component is methane — and provide the EU with more fuel.
Around 46 billion cubic meters of the gas a year is lost to unnecessary venting or flaring, which companies do for safety reasons or when they don’t have anywhere to send the gas, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s almost a third of what the EU currently imports from Russia.
John Kerry, the US climate envoy, has also backed the idea. Operators must “plug the leaks of methane that are occurring in too many parts of the world,’’ he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.
Methane experts have praised the idea as a smart solution that could help benefit the planet and help Europe weather its energy crunch.
“It’s genuinely a world-leading proposal,” said Jonathan Banks, global director for super pollutants at Clean Air Task Force. “It highlights the rapid climate wins possible at a time when most eyes are squarely on questions of energy security.”
Oman Backs U.S. Firm Mining Crypto To Cut Gas Flaring
* Crusoe Energy Says It Plans To Open An Office In Oman
* Middle East, North Africa Account For 38% Of Global Flaring
Oman’s sovereign wealth fund took an equity stake in a U.S. firm that says it helps fossil-fuel producers cut flaring by using stranded natural gas to power cryptocurrency mining instead.
Oman Investment Authority was part of the $350 million equity round that Crusoe Energy Systems Inc. raised in April, according to a statement. Ismail Ibrahim Al-Harthi, senior manager of technology investments at Oman Investment Authority, said the firm’s policy doesn’t comment on the size of stakes. Crusoe also declined to reveal terms.
Denver-based Crusoe will open an office in Muscat, Oman, to help deploy power generators and mining equipment for capturing gas at well sites, said Chief Executive Officer Chase Lochmiller.
The Middle East and North Africa account for about 38% of the world’s flaring — the burning of excess natural gas from oilfields. The practice has come under fire for releasing harmful greenhouse gases and worsening climate change.
“We’ve always felt it was important for us to have a presence in the MENA region,” given its share of global flaring, Lochmiller said. “Having the buy-in from nations that are actively trying to solve the flaring issues is what we are looking for.”
Crypto mining has come under scrutiny for being energy intensive and reliant on burning natural gas. Crusoe, meanwhile, has faced criticism from climate experts who say the fact the company uses gas that would otherwise go to waste doesn’t negate the fact that it burns fossil fuel to mine crypto.
The company, which keeps all the coin it mines, focuses on setting up shop in remote areas where it’s not economically feasible to build infrastructure to cut flaring.
Crusoe held a workshop in Oman on Monday with the country’s biggest producers, including OQ SAOC and Petroleum Development Oman. The first Middle East pilot will be launched by year-end or early 2023, Lochmiller said.
While the drop in Bitcoin prices “certainly has some impact on our top-line revenue, it doesn’t impact any plans for growth and expansion.”
The Oman government, which signed on to the World Bank’s initiative to end routine flaring by 2030, invested in Crusoe early last year, then increased that stake with the April round, Al-Harthi said in a phone interview.
“Oman is committed to reduce greenhouse gases in line with the Paris climate agreement,” Al-Harthi said in an emailed statement.
Louisiana Probes Source of Methane Cloud Spotted From Space
The plume is the most severe observed by the Sentinel-5P satellite in the US since mid-March, according to an analysis of the data.
Louisiana is investigating the source of a cloud of methane that was spotted from space near multiple natural gas pipelines.
The state began its probe after Bloomberg News contacted the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources about a concentration of the planet-warming gas detected May 28 by a European Space Agency satellite.
The plume had an emissions rate of 44 tons of methane an hour and was the most severe detected in the US since March 19, according to an analysis of the data by Kayrros SAS.
If the release lasted an hour at the rate estimated by the geoanalytics firm, it would have roughly the same short-term impact as the annual emissions from about 800 US cars.
A second plume identified the same day by the satellite that was roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of the original release didn’t have enough information for Kayrros to estimate its emissions rate.
Halting methane releases from fossil fuel operations is one of the most important steps that can be taken to slow global warming.
Venting and non-emergency flaring of methane from oil and gas should be significantly reduced or eliminated to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the International Energy Agency.
The release under investigation likely originated within 6 miles of gas pipelines owned by Kinder Morgan Inc. and Boardwalk Pipelines LP and about 8 miles from an Energy Transfer pipeline, according to Kayrros.
None of the three operators contacted by Bloomberg said they were responsible. Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources said it was first made aware of the methane cloud by Bloomberg.
“We are currently trying to see if there are any potential sources (wells or pipelines) that look to be close enough to have caused such a release,” Patrick Courreges, a representative for the state department, said in an email Friday.
He said the agency is reaching out to the nearby operators and its field agents are looking for any physical evidence, such as a ruptured pipeline or disturbed ground.
The plume over Louisiana wasn’t caused by Kinder Morgan’s Midcontinent Express Pipeline, a company representative said.
A Boardwalk spokesperson said its Gulf South pipeline didn’t have any leaks or maintenance work that could have caused the cloud. An Energy Transfer representative said there’s no indication the release is related to its pipeline.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said its air assessment team hasn’t seen evidence of the release.
The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration didn’t receive any reports of a release from pipeline operators in the area, a representative said in an email. The agency began enforcing a requirement that pipeline operators take steps to minimize emissions this year, the representative added.
Giant Methane Cloud Seen Near Algeria Gas Pipeline That Feeds Spain
Powerful plumes of the greenhouse gas were spotted by satellite in northwest Algeria.
Powerful clouds of the super-emitter methane have been spotted by satellite in northwest Algeria, near a conduit that appears to branch off from the Medgaz Gas Pipeline, which supplies about a quarter of the natural gas consumed in Spain.
Three plumes were observed by a European Space Agency satellite on May 26 and 27.
The most severe had an emissions rate of 118 tons of methane an hour and was approximately 13 kilometers from what looks like a distribution line connected to the Medgaz Gas Pipeline, according to analysis from geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS and Global Energy Monitor. The plume was about 50 kilometers away from the mainline.
Using the emissions rate estimated by Kayrros, if the most severe release lasted an hour, it would have the same short term climate impact as the annual emissions from more than 2,000 US cars.
Although Algeria is a global methane hotspot, historically emissions there have been observed near the Hassi R’Mel gas field in the eastern part of the country. Scientists recently determined equipment associated with the field had been leaking methane for nearly 40 years.
Algerian state oil and gas company Sonatrach, which owns and operates virtually all of the section of the Medgaz Gas Pipeline that runs from the Hassi R’Mel field to the Algerian coast, declined to comment. A spokesman for the country’s energy ministry didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Naturgy Energy Group S.A., which operates the portion of the Medgaz Gas Pipeline that runs under the Alboran Sea until it reaches Spain, also declined to comment.
Naturgy and Sonatrach said last July they were expanding the pipeline’s capacity 25% to a total of 10 billion cubic meters a year from the fourth quarter of 2021 onwards.
Naturgy Chairman Francisco Reynes said in the statement that the infrastructure “strengthens the security of the natural gas supply to Spain, and is key to providing guarantees and stability to the ecological transition and decarbonisation process.’’
But if Algeria, which provides about 8% of Europe’s gas imports and is the continent’s third biggest supplier after Russia and Norway, can’t curb massive and sustained methane releases observed by satellite it may jeopardize its ability to play a role in Europe’s energy transition.
The European Union is seeking to tighten control of leaks from within the bloc and from key sources outside the continent.
World’s Dirtiest Oil And Gas Fields Are In Russia, Turkmenistan And Texas
A new analysis finds the emissions from fossil-fuel production — not just end use — are substantial, and cutting methane should be the oil and gas sector’s top priority.
Oil and natural gas fields in Russia, Turkmenistan and Texas are the most climate-damaging on Earth, according to a first-of-its kind analysis that looks at greenhouse-gas emissions across entire supply chains and finds they vary widely.
The dirtiest fields emit more than 10 times as much carbon dioxide equivalent as the least emissions-intensive sites, it finds.
Released Thursday by the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, the Oil Climate Index plus Gas (OCI+) web tool ranks 135 global oil- and gas-producing resources — which together account for half of the world’s supplies of those commodities — based on a full life-cycle analysis of their 2020 emissions.
Russia’s Astrakhanskoye natural gas field has the biggest footprint across its supply chain because of prolific leaks on pipelines and other infrastructure “downstream,” according to the analysis. Turkmenistan’s South Caspian basin and the Permian Basin in West Texas rank second and third; the majority of their emissions arise “upstream,” during production.
Created by researchers at RMI, Stanford University, the University of Calgary and Koomey Analytics, the OCI+ tool and an accompanying report conclude that significant fossil-fuel emissions occur not just at the point of combustion, but directly at the wellhead and during processing, refining, and transportation.
RMI estimates that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas reporting program undercounts oil and gas industry emissions by a factor of two. The project received funding from the philanthropic organization of Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg News.
Methane, a greenhouse gas that is the primary component of natural gas and a powerful global-warming agent, accounts for more than half of operational emissions at sites worldwide.
Curbing the flaring and venting of the gas and ensuring that oil-field equipment is working properly can help significantly reduce upstream emissions, the report says, calling methane reductions “the highest priority for the oil and gas sector.”
The initiative draws on years of research by academics and nonprofit institutions, public data and satellite images. It boils down to the questions, “Who has the worst barrel, and who are the suckers buying the bad stuff?” said Deborah Gordon, senior principal of climate intelligence at RMI, the research lead. That’s where the spotlight needs to be to combat climate change, she said.
Oil and gas prices have surged after demand rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic and due to dislocations caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Despite growth in renewable power generation, global reliance on fossil fuels is poised to grow before tapering amid a transition to alternatives like wind and solar.
Yet the urgency to cut emissions has grown. A United Nations-backed panel of scientists recently warned that emissions must be significantly reduced by 2030 to help avoid the catastrophic impacts that would result from warming exceeding the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5° and 2° Celsius.
The report recommends buying fuel locally as much as possible to save on transport-related emissions, but according to the OCI+ analysis, Europe might actually avoid some emissions by buying gas from the US that is super-chilled into liquid and shipped across the ocean rather than from Russia.
Sourcing gas from Russia is “horrid” because of leaks, Gordon said: On the OCI+ digital emissions map, Russia’s pipeline system jumps out in bright yellow and orange due to concentrated methane emissions.
(New York City and Boston, which have aging pipe infrastructure, show up as smaller, less intense hot spots, while Russia’s liquefied natural gas export terminal in Siberia is a blip.)
For decades, policies have targeted reducing emissions from cars and power plants, which puts the responsibility on the consumer with little transparency on emissions from producers themselves, Gordon said. “Conventional wisdom is that the consumer is responsible for 86% of the emissions from the barrel.”
But the research shows that’s not the case for the most polluting oil and gas fields, she said.
The researchers also estimated a price for carbon, and OCI+ shows how accounting for life-cycle emissions would tack on more than $50 per barrel for the highest-emitting sites.
If a fee reflecting the social cost to carbon were imposed today, the production-weighted average cost for the 135 fields would be $7 per barrel of oil equivalent, less than $1 for refiners and $4 for shippers, according to the analysis.
The values are based on a cost of $56 per metric ton that was modeled by the US government. (Carbon fees can be adjusted in OCI+ to account for different scenarios.)
Aging oil and gas fields become more GHG-intensive as more energy and water are needed to extract the fuel from underground. The average emissions of a typical large oil field will double over 25 years, according to past research.
Two prime candidates for decommissioning are the Minas field in Indonesia and Wilmington in California, since they already require large injections, Gordon said.
The web tool also breaks out the share of sites’ emissions from flaring, or burning off excess natural gas. This practice is notoriously common in the Permian Basin, where oil is the most profitable fuel and natural gas is a nuisance byproduct.
“The Permian looks terrible,” Gordon said, but “if Texas cleans up its act and really focuses on not leaking methane and not flaring its gas, it will be there right at the top” of the lowest-emitting areas.
Gas Supplier TGN Defends Massive Methane Releases In Argentina
Argentina’s Transportadora de Gas del Norte said it released about 1 million cubic meters of fossil gas during pipeline maintenance.
Argentina’s Transportadora de Gas del Norte defended the intentional release of methane directly into the atmosphere during planned pipeline work. The cloud of greenhouse gas had the same short-term warming impact as the annual emissions from about 12,000 US cars.
A spokesperson for the company, which transports about 40% of the country’s piped fossil gas, said the overall volumes emitted were relatively usual by industry standards and that it was unfair to draw attention to the releases when other fossil-fuel operators routinely leak the potent greenhouse gas.
TGN is the latest example of an oil and gas company that may be able to do more to curb methane emissions, a greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming capacity of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere.
The International Energy Agency has said these companies must severely curtail or eliminate non-emergency releases of methane to avoid the worst of climate change.
TGN said it released about 600,000 standard cubic meters of gas on May 30 and fewer than 400,000 standard cubic meters on June 6, when 19-mile sections of two separate pipelines were emptied to make them safe for workers to inspect and repair. Up to 90% of emissions from so-called pipeline blowdowns can be eliminated through techniques like burning the gas through a flare.
The company said that lowering the pressure of the gas, rather than fully venting it, wasn’t an option because it would have made the work dangerous. The spokesperson said they didn’t know why the gas wasn’t flared.
The plumes were also observed by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. The May 30 release had an estimated emissions rate of 120 metric tons of methane an hour, according to global geo-analytics company Kayrros SAS.
The second plume had an estimated rate of 57 tons an hour. TGN said the bigger May 30 release lasted less than two hours.
Methane releases in Argentina observed by satellite have historically been detected around Buenos Aires, where landfills, leaky pipes and livestock facilities are all likely to contribute to severe and sustained plumes.
But these two recent clouds were hundreds of miles from the capital, shining a spotlight on another source of the country’s emissions: its vast fossil gas reserves.
South America’s second-largest economy is highly dependent on gas, which accounts for 55% of its primary energy mix, according to the International Energy Agency.
A Bloomberg investigation into clouds of methane around Buenos Aires last year identified the Norte III landfill as a prevalent source. The site’s operator, Ceamse, said a new power station running on gas captured and piped from the trash would reduce emissions by about three quarters.
There were 34 separate methane plumes detected by Sentinel-5P in and around Buenos Aires last year, according to an analysis by Kayrros. Another 19 have been spotted so far this year.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 40% of human-caused methane emissions globally, followed by fossil fuels with 35% and waste with 20%, according to a United Nations report. In Argentina, oil and gas venting or flaring accounts for 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, according to the government. Cattle herds are large contributors to Argentina’s agricultural emissions.
Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,Satellites Put The World’s,