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Methane clouds spotted in China’s northeast by high-resolution satellite

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A high-resolution satellite image taken less than 48 hours ago appears to show methane releases from China’s largest oilfield. The image is the first in a series of exclusive observations Bloomberg Green will publish during COP27 from emissions monitoring firm GHGSat Inc.

The detection highlights the rapidly expanding ability of satellites to identify and track methane almost anywhere in the world that is driving a new era of climate transparency in which greenhouse gases will be quantified and attributed in near real-time to individual assets and companies. Scientists say reducing the emissions of the potent greenhouse gas, which has 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere, is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to cool the planet.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and responsible for about 30% of the Earth’s warming. Leaks can occur during extraction and transport of the fossil fuel, but methane is also routinely generated as a byproduct of oil and coal production and if operators don’t have infrastructure to get the gas to market they may release it into the atmosphere. The Energy Agency has called for oil and gas operators to halt all non-emergency methane venting.

The satellite image taken at 1:15 pm Beijing time on Nov. 4 and shows six methane releases in northeast from the Daqing oilfield, according to GHGSat. Estimated emissions rates ranged between 446 and 884 kilograms per hour and the cumulative rate was 4,477 kilograms an hour, the Montreal-based company said. If the releases lasted for an hour at that rate they would have the same short-term climate impact as the annual emissions from about 81 US cars.

PetroChina, which operates the Daqing oil field, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Sunday outside of regular business hours. China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on Sunday.

is the world’s largest source of energy-related methane emissions with an estimated 28 million metric tons last year, according to the Energy Agency’s Methane Tracker. Russia was second and the US third with 18 million and 17 million tons respectively.

is the world’s largest coal miner, the fourth-biggest producer of natural gas and ranks sixth in terms of crude output. The country has so far declined to join the Global Methane Pledge, a US- and EU-led initiative that aims to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas 30% by the end of this decade from 2020 levels. More than 120 countries have so far joined the effort.

More companies and institutions are launching multi-spectral satellites that can detect methane’s unique signature. GHGSat has six satellites in orbit now dedicated to monitoring industrial methane and aims to launch another five by the end of next year. US non-profit Environmental Defense Fund plans to launch its MethaneSAT in 2023 and a consortium including Carbon Mapper, the State of California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Planet Labs expects to launch two satellites next year.

Around 40% of total methane emissions generated from human activity come from the energy sector and more than 40% of oil and gas emissions could be reduced at no net cost using existing technologies, according to the IEA. That’s because the captured gas can be sold as a product and combusted for energy or heating. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

Concentrations of methane in the atmosphere had the biggest year-on-year jump since measurements began four decades ago, according to the World Meteorological Organization.


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