Sep 21

Methane Leak Discovered in Heart of China’s Major Coal Hub

Dimitri Frolowsckii
Jul 12, 2021
methane leak

A massive methane leak was discovered in China’s northeast Shanxi province, one of the country’s biggest coal production regions.

Kayrros SAS, the analytics company, identified a major methane plume, which occurred 90 kilometres east of Yangquan City.

The emissions rate needed to produce the plume observed in a June 18 satellite image would be several hundred metric tons an hour, according to Kayrros.

A 200-tonne per hour release would have roughly an equivalent climate warming in the first two decades as 800,000 cars driving at 60 miles an hour, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Kayrros SAS has been previously known for discovering major methane leaks in Canada, Russia and South Africa.

Methane is described as one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the world. At least 25 percent of current global warming is driven by methane, predominantly from human actions.

Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. However, it exists in lower concentrations than carbon dioxide.

This gas can be found naturally in the environment and through anthropogenic sources and is predominantly produced by coal, the oil and gas industry.

The data provided by Kayrros SAS is not entirely conclusive yet, and observations could be impacted by precipitation, light intensity and cloud cover. Nonetheless, China appears again as the principal national contributor to fossil fuel emissions.

Annual global methane emissions are about 570 million tonnes, with 60 percent originating from man-made activity, according to a report published by the International Energy Agency.

China is described as the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal and is also the world’s most significant source of carbon dioxide, responsible for around 28 percent of global emissions.

The coal industry offers the biggest opportunity to mitigate methane emissions, according to a United Nations assessment.

The current leak might at least push China to address methane emissions more seriously and incorporate them into its long-term environmental plans.

President Xi Jinping announced the long-term goals of reducing coal use from 2026 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060. China also would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest.

However, the proposed measures might not do enough to handle methane problems, which currently are managed mainly with regulations as a safety concern for miners.

Methane could continue leaking long after coal mines have been abandoned and could still account for about 10 percent of human-made emissions of the gas by the end of the decade, according to the Global Methane Initiative. China will need to do more here to hit 2060 carbon neutral goals, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Dimitri Frolowsckii

Dimitri Frolowsckii is a political and energy analyst with over 15 years of experience in journalism.

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