The satellites monitored huge methane emissions from oil and gas facilities

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Oil and gas fields together emit huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere, but scientists often find it difficult to emit the worst are to blame. Two new satellite surveys have identified some of the industry’s largest sources of methane and found that they spew out even more gas than previously thought. Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gasPreventing these emissions can offer a way to quickly reduce the industry’s impact on the climate.

The first poll showed that methane emissions from dozens of crude oil production facilities in Turkmenistan increased sharply in 2020 (Environment. Sciences. Tech. 2022, DOI: 10.1021 / acs.est.1c04873), while the second showed that similar gas emissions are common at many other oil and gas facilities around the world (Science 2022, DOI: 10.1126 / science.abj4351).

“We thought they were random and rare. And we found that they are not as rare as we thought, and not accidental, ”he says Thomas Lavaux at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Paris-Saclé, who led the second study. He adds that there is an urgent need to tighten regulations on companies’ emissions and improve their performance. “Everything is possible, it’s just a matter of political will,” he said.

Turkmenistan was already known to have one of the world’s largest methane emissions, but it was unclear exactly where the gas came from. “This is happening in a country where external access to data is very difficult,” he says Iciar Irakulis-Leutksate, a graduate student at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, who conducted a survey in Turkmenistan. “Without satellites, it would be very difficult to verify the origin of the emissions.”

The Irakulis-Leutksate team combined spectrometer and camera data on several different satellites to compile a detailed picture of emissions into Turkmenistan. Some tools, for example, TRAPOMI Sensor (TROPospheric Ozone Monitoring Instrument) – provided daily inspection of the area with a wide brush, and others – satellites PRISM, ЗЫ-1 02Д, Landsatand Watchman-2-proposed less frequent but more accurate methane measurements. This combination allowed researchers to pinpoint methane plumes with a separation of 20-30 m and observe how they change over time.

From January 2017 to November 2020, the team identified 29 loops of methane, which sporadically emitted up to 20 metric tons

Overall, methane emissions in Turkmenistan’s survey area have roughly doubled between 2018 and 2020, in part because many of these facilities have shifted from burning excess methane – a practice called flare – to unimpeded ventilation. The global warming potential of methane is more than 80 times greater than the global warming potential of CO2 for the first 20 years after its release, so methane is burned and thus converted to CO2 somewhat reduces the impact on the climate, although it pollutes the air in other ways.

In the second study, a team led by Lovo used similar satellite data to map major methane emissions around the world during 2019 and 2020. Although they were able to narrow the springs to a few kilometers using TROPOMI data, about two-thirds of the loops were clearly related to the oil and gas industry, with the rest to coal mining, agriculture or waste management.

The oil and gas industry emitted about 8 million tons of methane a year, which is about 10% of the industry’s global emissions. Turkmenistan was responsible for more emissions than any other country, followed by Russia, the United States, Iran, Kazakhstan and Algeria.

Lovo says he was shocked by the scale of the methane emissions. “We were surprised to see that even the United States is not doing a great job,” he said. Most releases were probably not caused by sudden accidents, he adds. It may take weeks or months to troubleshoot equipment that releases methane, but many of the loops they saw only appeared within a day or so, meaning intentional ventilation.

“Overall, their findings are consistent with what we found,” said Irakulis-Leutksate. Lovo adds that the two studies are also complementary: while his work provides a global overview, Turkmenistan’s study provides a “much clearer picture of the plumes.” Both approaches can give politicians a powerful way to monitor methane emissions, he says.

In November 2021 more than 100 countries signed a global promise on methane reduction methane emissions at least 30% between 2020 and 2030. Satellite surveys will be an important way to assess whether countries are really keeping that promise. “Politicians should use all possible tools to try to contain these emissions as soon as possible,” said Irakulis-Leutksate. The satellites monitored huge methane emissions from oil and gas facilities

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