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.