Satellite Detects Large Methane Leak in South Africa’s Coal Mining Region

A (different) methane leak as seen from space. Source, New York Times

Kayrros SAS, a Paris-based analytics company, has detected a gas leak about 125 kilometres east of Johannesburg, South Africa. By parsing European Space Agency satellite observations, the company detected a large methane cloud near coal mines. 

Sasol Ltd, which has coal mines around said region, said it didn’t record any elevated methane levels that day. Furthermore, the company added that emissions from its mining operations “are highly diluted and dispersed over a wide geographical area.” Similarly, Anglo American Plc said its open-cast Isibonelo mine located nearby is “highly unlikely to emit the levels” estimated by Kayrros. Kayrros SAS estimated an emission rate of 65 metric tons per hour on Monday, 10th of May 2021. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with important implications for climate change. Although methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide, it absorbs much more energy while in the atmosphere. Before, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from industries have relied mainly on paper-based calculations. However, improvements in satellite technology have created a different perspective. Researchers are starting to stress test the data – and the early results show leaky oil and gas industry infrastructure is responsible for far more of the methane in the atmosphere than previously thought, according to Reuters. 

While coal dependence as an energy source is dropping, fossil fuel mining causes natural gas emissions. This is as companies sometimes release the gas trapped underground to lower the risk of explosions. More so, methane can continue leaking after mining activities have discontinued. Consequently, the Global Methane Initiative expects the mining industry to generate about 10% of human-made methane emissions. 

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