Satellite Shows Scale of Gas Leaks from Pipelines
Satellite data from European Copernicus Sentinel missions have revealed the scale of methane plumes leaking or vented from natural gas pipelines around the globe, European technology firm Kayrros said March 4. Copernicus is a joint venture between the European Commission and the European Space Agency.
Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, second only to CO2 in its overall contribution to climate change and with far worse effects in the short-term. Kayrros said that now the technology to detect leaks exists, it should be used.
In 2020, Kayrros developed a tool to detect individual methane emissions from space. Now, the platform is being used to track regular methane emissions along gas pipelines, for example in Siberia, with emission rates of up to 300 mt/hour recorded.
By combining data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-2 missions, along with artificial intelligence algorithms, Kayrros scientists detected 13 methane emission events, with rates up to 164 mt/hr in 2019-2020, along the Yamal-Europe pipeline – a 4196-km pipeline running across Russia, Belarus and Poland into Germany.
Another 33 emission events, with rates up to 291 mt/hr, were detected over the same period on the shorter, Brotherhood pipeline that crosses Ukraine. When contacted, operators confirmed that these events were related to planned maintenance and have been duly reported to the relevant authorities.
Over the same period, Kayrros also detected major methane releases in the US, from numerous emissions associated with shale oil production, as well as in other countries such as Kazakhstan.
Methane emissions take place during transportation, as operators choose to vent the gas during routine maintenance operations, which sometimes results in a ‘double-cloud’ pattern on Sentinel-5P images. These events, however, could easily and cost-effectively be avoided by using alternative operational practices such as portable flaring.
Kayrros president Antoine Rostand said: “The climate footprint of these operational practices is enormous because of the global warming potential of methane – 84 times greater than CO2 over 20 years. The venting observed by Kayrros along Russian pipelines in 2019 and 2020 released methane equivalent to approximately 3mn mt of CO2, which could have been avoided."
European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager Claus Zehner said: “Kayrros’ use of Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-5P images to detect methane hotspots is not only a major technical achievement but is hugely beneficial for the planet. It shows how cutting-edge innovation can leverage data from the Copernicus programmes to deliver benefits beyond what could have been imagined when these programmes were initially launched.”
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil and gas operations worldwide emitted just over 70mn metric tons (mt) of methane into the atmosphere in 2020 alone.