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Huge Methane Leak Detected in the Heart of China’s Major Coal Facility

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(Bloomberg) – A huge plume of methane, the potent greenhouse gas that is a key contributor to global warming, has been identified in China’s largest coal-producing region.

The release in northeastern Shanxi province is one of the largest that geoanalysis company Kayrros SAS has so far attributed to the global coal sector and likely emanated from multiple mining operations.

Details captured in European Space Agency satellite data show the column about 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Shanxi capital Taiyuan in Yangquan city. The area has 34 coal mines, according to the Shanxi Bureau of Energy.


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Shanxi Department of Ecology and Environment, the province’s Bureau of Energy and China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment did not respond to requests for comment.

The emission rate needed to produce the column seen in the June 18 satellite image would be several hundred metric tons per hour, according to Kayrros. By comparison, a 200-ton-per-hour release would have roughly equivalent climate warming in the first two decades to 800,000 cars driving 60 miles per hour, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. The industry presents the country’s greatest opportunity to mitigate methane emissions, according to a United Nations assessment. In March, China’s latest five-year plan included, for the first time, a promise to contain gas that traps roughly 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release.


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READ MORE: Why is Methane the Low-Rise Invisible Fruit of the Climate?

President Xi Jinping has outlined the ambition for the country to begin reducing coal use starting in 2026 on its way to a broader goal of reaching peak greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and achieving the carbon neutrality by 2060.

Efforts to reduce the use of coal have largely focused on the large amount of CO₂ that is generated when it is burned. But extracting the fuel is also problematic, because producers frequently release trapped methane from underground operations to reduce the risk of explosion.

Methane can continue to leak long after mines have been closed or abandoned, and the industry is expected to account for about 10% of man-made gas emissions by the end of the decade, according to the Global Methane Initiative.


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READ MORE: Satellite detects huge methane leak and Gazprom fault pipeline

To achieve its carbon neutral targets by 2060, China must create an investment and financing system that addresses methane reductions, the Environmental Defense Fund said in a report. It may also make sense for miners themselves to take additional steps to capture methane emissions, as the gas can be used for power generation, drying coal, or as a supplemental fuel, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. .

The Shanxi column analysis follows earlier work to identify methane releases in countries such as Russia and South Africa, as scientists begin to identify the largest sources of emissions. Existing data, although globally complete, and satellite observations may be affected by cloud cover, precipitation, and variable light intensity is not. Satellites can also have a difficult time tracking marine emissions and releases at higher latitudes.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP


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