Satellite Monitoring of Big Methane Leaks Can Enable Faster Climate Improvement

Natural gas power plants only emits half of the carbon dioxide as coal power plants. However, natural gas usage can result in a lot more methane leaks and emissions. One ton of methane emissions has the same warming effect as about 86 tons of CO2 over twenty years.

Above is satellite images of large methane leaks

Satellites can now me used to monitor the world for large methane leaks and to identify the largest sources of methane emissions. There are about 100 high volume-emitting methane leaks at any one time around the world. Around 50% of these emissions come from regions with activities in oil and gas, coal mining and other heavy industries. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite makes it possible to track and attribute methane emissions around the world.

Methane leaks are money losers for companies. Preventing natural gas leaks would save money. Stopping just the unprofitable methane leaks would reduce the temperature rise in 2100 by 0.07 °C compared with a trajectory that has no explicit reductions. This would be like lowering CO2 emissions by 160 billion fewer tonnes of CO2 over the rest of the century. This would equal shutting down 60% of the world’s coal-fired power plants that are in operation today and replacing them with zero-emissions generation.

In the USA, natural gas has replaced 20% of the coal power generation over the last decade. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced but recent studies show that methane emissions were worse than believed. The global warming improvement expected from reduced CO2 emissions likely did not occur because of the methane leakage problem.

The IEA reports the technical solutions are available to avoid about three quarters of today’s methane emissions from global oil and gas operations. Even more significantly, around 40% of current methane emissions could be avoided at no net cost.

DOE data shows that every 10,000 U.S. homes powered with natural gas instead of coal avoids the annual emissions of 1,900 tons of NOx, 3,900 tons of SO2, and 5,200 tons of particulates. Air pollution is reduced. Global Warming gases (CO2 and methane) has ended up being about the same or even worse than coal.

France reduced its global warming gases in the 1980s from 9.7 tons per person to 6.8 tons per person by mainly shifting 80% of its power generation to nuclear energy.

21 thoughts on “Satellite Monitoring of Big Methane Leaks Can Enable Faster Climate Improvement”

  1. We had a massive methane leak in 2015 and 2016 as well. Then there was the fiasco with San Onofre, so we are out a good carbon free base-load power plant. California spinning its wheels:

    We need to get serious about carbon sequestration. Fertilize the oceans and produce massive quantities of phytoplankton and char it then deep-6 it or bury it on land if that won't work. Burning coal though is just silly. That needs to stop globally.

    If the dead wood/brush would have just sat in the forests and rotted that would have made lots of methane, so burning is preferred over that in terms of global warming, but charring the dead stuff and burying it is far better.

    And the more live mass on the ground the better. We just need better quicker ways of stopping fires. It does not mater if it is not natural, the more mass the more carbon is in the plants rather than the atmosphere. We need fleets of drones that can respond immediately and drop 30-80 gallons of water each. Drones all automated. Satellite detects fire and drones immediately deployed before the fire can turn into anything big. And we need a bunch of large aircraft to drop large quantities of water when things get out of hand.

  2. The gas companies are very aware of their leaky system. Thousands of miles of systems in city distribution systems, mostly just threaded iron pipe. Not cost effecting to trace & repair. Answer is in nuke power, my preference remains molten salt rx using Th. Also (in America) paying attention to our needless population growth.

  3. Methane from cows and sheep makes up over a third of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. This is a problem, since dairy products are our biggest export, so there's been a lot of research on it. Cows can be bred to make less methane. Another avenue was to modify forage crops to make them less gassy. A gene for tannins from another strain of clover was inserted into the white clover which is a staple of the industry, as tannins have been shown to cut methane, and also reduce bloat in sheep fed too rich a diet. Unfortunately, gene technology is controversial here, so the work had to be sent overseas for field trials. That was ten years ago, and nothing seems to have happened since. The new Labour government, though, has an absolute majority, so maybe won't be fettered by needing Green party support. (White clover actually has its own genes for tannin, but they're not switched on.)

  4. If you push this tired 'chemtrails' conspiracy theory, Kimhi, you're just going to get laughed at. It's true that plane exhausts cause three or four times as much global warming as just the CO2 from the fuel they burn, but they don't need any mysterious 'chemicals' to do it. The main effect is just from water vapour – the hydrogen in jet fuel makes up only about fifteen percent of it by weight, but once burnt, the resulting water outmasses the fuel, which can be nearly half the weight of the plane on takeoff. Then carbon particles – soot – can form nuclei for ice crystals to condense around. The resulting trails have a net warming effect, trapping more infrared radiation from below, especially at night, than the visible sunlight they reflect back out to space. Nitrous oxide is also produced in the hot flame, just as in diesel engines at ground level. This is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, but is more important as a catalyst to break down the ozone layer.
    If you check out the history of Du Pont and teflon, you'll see that companies with toxins don't have to go to all the trouble of putting them on a plane, they just find a hole in the ground somewhere. Probably not so much in the States any more – too many lawyers. Somewhere in the third world is easier.

  5. It is great for them. Cows are healthier and more energetic with more iodine. It is also more healthy for us as milk, yogurt, and cheese will have more iodine. The sea weed is also only 0.5% of the feed. It just adds a bit of variety to their diet.

  6. The World is going to continue to use oil and gas, because things can't change that fast. The only way to address that is to develop the alternative technology. Us stopping selling achieves less than zero. And let's say you get what you want, and prices go up on fuel. How does that help anything? Now people have less money to save to buy the replacement.
    If we don't sell, the World will be buying from Russia and the Middle East. The World will be over a barrel. Anything the Russians want they get. Guaranteed they will take over more countries. Make the Mideast even more of an issue? Brilliant.
    It is only when countries become more prosperous that they can consider doing things like buying new electric cars.
    Their productivity will grow if there is fuel they can afford.
    Curtailing oil and gas will not stop global warming. It is already past the tipping point. Carbon sequestration is now a must. Work on that rather than strangling the World.
    The US also must do well economically so people can buy electric cars. That means we need to fix the trade deficit. And oil is clearest and most effective way to do that. If only 10% of Americans can afford to buy electric cars, it will take a very very long time to replace the gasoline and Diesel cars. Even the used ones are not going to be very attractive if the batteries are near useless, and the replacement is $10,000. People will just keep rebuilding gasoline clunkers even if the sale of new gasoline cars is banned.

  7. Bezos cites the increased energy demands of better living standards for people as a contributor to his off-world goals. “We will run out of energy,” Bezos said during the presentation. “This is just arithmetic. It’s going to happen. Do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth? This is an easy choice. We know what we want. We just have to get busy.”

  8. No, California isn't forcing them to switch, Tell the whole story; various operators of equipment that travels given and repetitious routes are realizing electric vehicles save them money. That's money.

  9. All great until your last sentence. Let's try 'the less everyòne uses, the better' and stop right there. No need to become a pusher.

  10. I wonder…
    Comparing Methane to CO2. Methane is the energy source and CO2 the exhaust product. Methane is at a much higher energy state than CO2 and should not linger in the atmosphere that long. It's nutrition for micro organisms, rocket fuel etc. My guess it breaks down quickly (and becomes CO2 and water).

    I remember the debacle when they found trace amounts of methane in Mars atmosphere. They speculated it came from life forms because it had to be produced "now" because it doesn't last and there were no other known sources like volcanic activity.

    How many tons of CH4 leakage are we talking about ?

  11. It's hard getting financing for a $6Billion terrestrial project that will not start earning revenue for another 7 years. Your not going to get financing for a high fraction of a trillion no matter the return. Govt doing it is a nonstarter, what's left?

  12. "We need to get oil burning for homes replaced with natural gas"

    Costs $5k-$10k, who pays? Doing nothing is usually cheaper when you dont have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

  13. All the buses should be natural gas. In San Diego they all are, and it has worked out just fine. Same should be done for garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and all new pickup trucks (or electric, if one prefers).
    California is forcing the cities to switch to electric buses which just wastes money. The electricity generated is mostly from natural gas. And charging is more of an issue.
    Some other city will get a bargain on natural gas buses we paid top dollar for.

  14. Very strange that they are including oil in energy generation in the US. That makes up a minuscule amount of generation. Only Hawaii is still using oil for electrical generation, other than really small amounts here and there during very high demand. And I expect those to be legislated out of existence.
    We need oil for transportation at the moment. We don't need to burn it for any other reason.
    Same as geothermal. But they are not talking about that.

    We need to get oil burning for homes replaced with natural gas (mostly a Northeast coast thing). Natural gas burns cleaner and the furnaces last longer as well. The less we use, the more we can export.

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