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Satellite spots ‘biggest’ methane leak at Russian coal mine

The Raspadskya mine in the Kemerovo region of southern Russia is releasing nearly 90 tonnes of methane per hour, according to new data from GHGSat, a company that uses satellites to monitor methane leaks from space.

The company said it detected 13 distinct methane plumes during a satellite pass on Jan. 14, 2022, and observed further plumes on later dates.

Stephane Germain, founder and president of GHGSat, told CNN on Wednesday that the Jan. 14 leak was not a one-time incident — the company has detected consistent leaks from the facility over the past five months.

“We find great leaks all over the world, but this one stood out,” he said, adding that it was the largest leak ever recorded and traced back to its source.

GHGSat said if emissions continued at the same rate for a year, the mine would emit more than 764,000 tonnes of methane, equivalent to the amount of natural gas needed to power 2.4 million homes for a year.

Raspadskaya, the company that operates the mine, did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second largest contributor to human-caused climate change.

A GHGSat image shows the methane leak in Russia.

Methane is the main component of natural gas used for heating homes and cooking, and can leak from coal mines., oil and gas drilling as well as pipelines that transport fossil fuels. It also comes from landfills and agriculture, with the burp of cows being one of its main sources.

For a long time, methane has been overlooked as a problem because its total emissions are significantly lower than those of CO2.

However, the gas has about 80 times more short-term warming potential than CO2 and, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher today. today than at any time for at least 800,000 years.

“To look at it another way, methane is the quick win of the world,” Germain said. “If we can find the sources of methane around the world, it can have a very significant short-term impact on climate change. And that’s why it’s so important for us to find the sources and then work with the operators. and regulators to find ways to reduce these emissions.”

Methane is difficult to detect because it is invisible and odorless. GHGSat uses six satellites with high-resolution spectrometers that make methane visible and can pinpoint the exact source of leaks.

“Each gas in the atmosphere absorbs light at a specific wavelength, each gas has a ‘spectral fingerprint’ and the spectrometer looks for these fingerprints,” Germain explained.

Global warming emissions from cow burps seen from space

He said the flight to Russia was part of a larger trend society is seeing around the world.

“Emissions from coal mines have increased dramatically over the last year. We’ve seen this in China. We’ve seen this in Russia. We’ve seen this in the United States. We’ve seen this in Australia, and so consistently , to us, that indicates that there has been an increase in coal production,” he said.

An agreement to reduce the use of coal was a major point of contention at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, with countries eventually agreeing to “phase down” consumption as part of their efforts to maintain global temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. .

Germain said increased coal production correlates with rising gas prices.

“Countries that have coal resources are probably very interested in alternative energy sources that cost less than what gas currently costs. That’s what we think we’re seeing and frankly, it’s very unfortunate,” did he declare.

GHGSat said the large release of methane from the Raspadskya mine may be intentional and related to mine safety. He explained that methane is an inevitable byproduct of mining, with pockets of gas released during the mining process.

A large accumulation of methane in underground tunnels could be extremely dangerous as methane is explosive. Miners at the Raspadskaya site have already suffered deadly consequences; in 2010, a gas explosion in the mine killed more than 60 people.

As the planet rapidly approaches 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, scientists have warned that atmospheric methane must be reduced quickly. 1.5 degrees has been identified as a critical threshold and keeping warming as close to that point as possible is the key goal of the historic Paris climate agreement.

CNN’s Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.

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