Satellite to launch to spot industrial methane leaks


U.S. environmental advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) aims to launch a satellite by 2021 in order to spot methane gas leaking from oil and gas industry installations.

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Methane emissions account for between a quarter and a fifth of global warming (Financial Times – may be behind paywall, The Guardian) and is the largest producer of greenhouse gases besides C02. According to the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, roughly 25 percent of 2017’s methane emissions came from cattle, while coal mining, oil and natural gas production and gas distribution combined, made up another 25 percent of 2017’s methane emissions.

‘MethaneSAT’ will collect public information which could be used by oil companies, investors or anyone, but EDF hopes it will make governments improve regulation to stop methane leaks (FT).

The satellite is planned to analyse methane gas levels in 50 major oil and gas fields, which make up roughly 80 percent of the world’s oil and gas production (The Guardian).

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates half of the of the 84 million tons of methane gas leaks could be fixed at zero cost, because costs would be offset by the value of the extra gas captured (The Guardian). Cutting these emissions is the “single fastest thing we can do to help put the brakes on climate change right now,” said EDF president, Fred Krupp (The Guardian). The oil and gas industry emits around 76 million tonnes of methane each year globally, which is enough to power an estimated 285 million U.S. homes according to the IEA (Nature).

Some existing government-run satellites already measure methane, but aren’t able to identify specific sites and in locations where reviewing is prohibited, there is no public information available (The Guardian). Only three percent of oil and gas companies currently report their methane emissions, according to the EDF.

In the U.S., the Trump administration tried to suspend regulations introduced by President Barack Obama to reduce methane leaks, but a Northern California District Court judge temporarily blocked the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management November action that tried to delay enforcement of the Obama-era rule for one year (TheHill).

Most of the tens of millions of dollars needed for the satellite have been raised by private donations, according to the EDF (The Guardian). Nature reports funders include the Audacious Project, a joint effort by TED, which posts online talks for free, and the philanthropy organisation Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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