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Landmark Study Validates Satellite Tracking of Giant Methane Leaks

New data on major plumes will help detect powerful leaks in oil and gas operations.

A methane extraction column towers above the site of the Gazprom PJSC Amur gas processing plant.

A methane extraction column towers above the site of the Gazprom PJSC Amur gas processing plant.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Scientists have used satellite data to identify more than 1,800 major releases of the potent greenhouse gas methane, according to a landmark study published in Science. The research validates a methodology developed in recent years to spot super-emissions from fossil fuel operations.

Large plume events account for between 8% and 12% of all releases from the oil and gas sector and many of them can be mitigated at low cost, according to the report published Friday. The methane detected by French and American researchers from 2019 and 2020 was concentrated mostly in Russia, Turkmenistan, parts of the U.S., Kazakhstan, Iran and Algeria. As many as 150 clouds were seen by satellite each month, some of which spread for hundreds of kilometers.