Using high-resolution data from the greenhouse gas emissions monitoring service GHGSat, an international collaboration led by National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) scientists at the University of Leeds (UK), has discovered a substantial methane leak from a faulty gas pipe. This is the first time a UK methane emission has been detected from space and mitigated.
While reviewing GHGSat data to support one of its the projects, the Leeds team identified an unusually large source near a landfill site they were focusing on. The source was releasing methane at a rate of over 200kg/h. This was subsequently confirmed by researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, who visited the site with their mobile measurement vehicle.
The team first recorded the emission on March 27, at which point GHGSat re-tasked its constellation to increase the capacity over the site. This resulted in five further successful measurements over a period of two months, showing emissions ranging from 200-1,400kg/h.
The researchers and GHGSat alerted the owner of the pipeline, Wales & West Utilities, who moved promptly to address the problem. Following an investigation, repairs were completed by June 13, after which time GHGSat satellites recorded no further emissions.
It has been estimated that the total volume of methane that leaked from the pipe over the 11 week-period was equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of more than 7,500 average homes, according to the EPA calculator.
Emily Dowd, the study lead and SENSE CDT PhD student at the School of Earth and Environment and the National Centre for Earth Observation, University of Leeds, said, “Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas and this work has shown that satellites can now provide a system to rapidly identify where leaks are happening so that action can be taken to minimize emissions and therefore the climate impact.”
NCEO will be supporting a new UK access program for GHGSat data, which is funded through the UK Space Agency and coordinated through the Satellite Applications Catapult.