Few of the climate-warming gases that humans produce have been as offensive as methane.
Besides the production of fossil fuels, including coal, methane also comes from landfills and agriculture, including livestock and rice farms. Natural sources such as wetlands produce about 40 percent of global emissions.
Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it is much more powerful at trapping heat from the sun, and it has increasingly become a target of concern to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals. greenhouse of the Paris Agreement, the 2015 pact between the nations of the world to reduce emissions to fight against global warming.
“We don’t know which are the real large emitters among the many coal mines and millions of oil and gas installations,” said Ilse Aben, co-principal investigator of the Earth Sciences group at the Netherlands Institute of spatial research, which provides data. of the older satellite that plays a role in the discoveries of GHGSat. But now, “you can really see where the methane is coming from – even which part of which facility.”
Since methane dissipates through the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide, reducing methane emissions brings climate benefits much faster. Yet even though its atmospheric concentration has doubled over the past 70 years, the precise provenance of all this extra methane has not been fully understood.
Since oil and gas operations are notorious for leaking methane, and the increase in methane in the atmosphere happened alongside the drilling boom, they felt like a natural place to watch. Indeed, methane emissions from oil and gas operations have consistently proven, in research over the past few years, to be much higher than what industry and the Environmental Protection Agency have estimated.
And much of it came from leaks. A 2016 Stanford article found that only 5% of leaks produce about half of the leaks.
It is both a risk and an opportunity for energy companies.
A risk because regulators, lawmakers and financiers are taking emissions limiting more and more seriously: This month, the UK demanded that large corporations and banks disclose their climate risks. by 2025. And more than 100 major banks have imposed restrictions on their investments in fossil fuels.