An underground coal mine in south-central Russia was identified by a satellite equipped with remote sensing technology as the source of one of the greatest discharges of methane from a single industrial site. This discovery is another another evidence of the magnitude of the challenge posed by the need to reduce emissions of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.
In late January, during a single flight of a satellite operated by GHGSat, a commercial emissions-monitoring service, thirteen plumes of the gas were spotted at the Raspadskya mine, which is the biggest coal mine in Russia. It was calculated that the overall flow rate from all of the plumes was around 87 tonnes in metric terms (about 95 tonnes in US terms) per hour.
“This is the biggest source we’ve ever seen,” said Brody Wight, director of energy, landfills, and mines at GHGSat, which was established in 2011 and currently consists of six emissions-sensing satellites. GHGSat was formed in response to a need for more accurate measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the greatest rate that was ever observed at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Southern California, which suffered from a significant leak for over four months between the years 2015 and 2016, was around sixty metric tonnes per hour.
According to Mr. Wight, it is unknown how much longer the discharges from the mine will continue at their current pace. However, on a number of earlier satellite flights, emissions on the order of tens of tonnes per hour were discovered. According to what he had to say, “we’ve seen a very constant growth in what’s coming from this site generally.”
According to the information provided by the corporation, if the flow were to remain continuous at 87 metric tonnes of methane an hour, the total annual emissions would be comparable to those produced by five ordinary coal-fired power plants.
Mr. Wight said that it was very probable that the releases were intentional due to the fact that the Raspadskya mine, like like other coal mines, contains naturally occurring pockets that are rich in methane within the seams of coal. In 2010, an explosion at the mine was caused by a buildup of methane, which resulted in the deaths of 66 persons.
Large fans suck air into and through the mine, releasing the methane into the atmosphere so that the concentration of methane may be reduced.
Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is produced as a result of human activity; nevertheless, methane has a greater impact on global warming. Over a period of twenty years, the warming effect of methane may be about eighty times that of the same quantity of carbon dioxide.
Emissions of methane are far lower than emissions of carbon dioxide, and the molecules disintegrate at a significantly faster rate. However, due to the fact that methane has the ability to cause warming, lowering emissions of the gas, whether on purpose or by accident, is considered as a strategy to more swiftly contain global warming in this century.
More than one hundred nations made a commitment to reduce their methane emissions by thirty percent by the year 2030 during the global climate negotiations that took place in Glasgow last November; however, Russia and a few other significant emitters were not among those countries.
Only in more recent times has it been possible to accurately measure emissions from particular industrial locations, such as mines, oil and gas production facilities, and landfills, using equipment that is either on the ground or in aircraft. Because of this, we were only able to study a select number of locations.
Even while ground and aerial sensors are still used, satellites can readily monitor considerably more regions than they used to be able to. However, the majority of these satellites have a rather low resolution, which means that even if they may detect gas across an area in amounts that are comparable to or higher than those observed at the Russian mine, they are unable to limit the emissions down to individual locations. The resolution of the GHGSat satellites is among the highest of any currently operational spacecraft.
Dr. Vogel said that thanks to more recent satellite technology, “We now have instruments that enable us to acquire information that can be acted upon.”
According to him, “They enable you to really get down to the facility size, to see particular portions of the plant where emissions are occurring,” and “They accomplish this by allowing you to truly get down to the facility scale.” “You are able to direct businesses to the appropriate place to have anything fixed.”