For the first time ever, a significant methane leak in the UK has been identified from space, marking a breakthrough in leak detection and mitigation. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with 28 times the heating potential of CO2, making it a significant contributor to global warming. The leak, detected in Cheltenham, was discovered in March with the help of specialist satellites.
Methane is responsible for around 30% of the increase in global temperatures, making it a crucial target for climate change action. The leak in question came from a gas pipeline owned by Wales and West Utilities, and its detection highlights the need for enhanced monitoring efforts.
Satellite imagery was initially being used to assess methane leaks from landfill sites, but the distinct marker of the methane leak from the gas pipeline was noticed by PhD researcher Emily Dowd at the University of Leeds. Further surveys from space, as well as on-the-ground measurements, were conducted to confirm the leak.
The identification of this leak raises questions about the number of similar leaks that may exist and underscores the importance of utilizing available technology for efficient detection. Currently, routine on-the-ground surveys are used to identify methane leaks, but this is a challenging process considering the vast network of pipelines and sites.
The main sources of methane emissions are the oil and gas industry, farming, and landfill sites. While UK methane emissions have decreased since 1990, progress has slowed in recent years. With the capability of satellite detection, leaks can be identified quickly, enabling prompt action to be taken.
Satellites provide a unique advantage in their ability to collect images frequently without the need for ground deployment. GHGSat, the company operating the satellites, has a constellation of nine high-resolution devices that can detect gases at 25m resolution.
Satellite data on methane emissions will be provided to UK organizations through a partnership between GHGSat and the UK, funded by the UK Space Agency. This data can inform decision-making on the path to achieving Net Zero emissions.
While there are still limitations that need to be addressed, the ability of satellites to identify significant methane sources proves to be a valuable tool in combating climate change.