Scientists stated Monday that for the first time, a satellite on a routine global survey identified and measured methane escaping from a gas well explosion, a device that could be vital in attempting to curb climate change.
Oil and gas mishaps have long released vast amounts of methane, a gas second only to carbon dioxide in its potential to damage the planet. Measuring such releases has been a challenge for scientists.
However, on Monday, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences mentioned a satellite sent by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), detected and measured emissions of methane from a blowout in 2018 in Ohio.
The research stated methane from the broken well was being released at about 120 tons per hour, nearly twice the rate of a broadly reported 2015 gas leak at Aliso Canyon in California.
Exxon Mobil Corp’s XTO Energy finally stopped Ohio well after it had been leaking for nearly three weeks. Exxon didn’t reply to a request for comment on the research.
Previously, satellites needed to be carefully focused on finding leaks, such as in the Aliso Canyon case. However, TROPOMI detected the methane leak as part of its routine patrol, setting the stage for gains in leak discovery.
Steven Hamburg, the co-author of the PNAS research, stated the conclusions “show the opportunity for satellites to help see and quantify emissions irrespective of where they’re” and that methane-detecting satellites could assist identify fixes.
Eventually, scientists, green groups, and a few politicians hope to use satellites not only to find methane emissions from significant oil and gas accidents, however from smaller leaks from everyday operations.