Satellites showing missed emissions
Satellite data has raised some questions about official methane figures.
Geospatial analytics firm Kayrros uses satellite imagery from the European Space Agency combined with meteorological data and atmospheric models to measure methane leaks from the fossil fuel industry.
In a recent review of Queensland’s coal-rich Bowen Basin, the company found that about 1.5 million tonnes of methane is being released into the atmosphere per year - three times more than federal government figures suggest.
Methane is particularly important in the global quest to drive down greenhouse gas emissions, as it is believed to be responsible for over 30 per cent of global warming to date. It is known to leak from coal mines, oil and gas wells and natural gas pipelines.
Kayrros has offered its satellite-based monitoring services to the federal government to assist in its emissions reduction activities, but the government says it is “developing a National Greenhouse Account Methane Monitoring System using Sentinel data to assess the implications of methane releases for the preparation of Australia's next National Greenhouse Accounts and is not looking for data analytic services from London”.
It has also said in official statements that “it is premature to use the satellite data to quantify emissions directly”.
However, the UN's new International Methane Emissions Observatory has been working with the new generation of satellite analysis.
An unrelated group of Dutch scientists has also used satellite data to raise similar concerns about Australia's publicly released greenhouse gas figures.
Satellite imagery of six coal mines in the Bowen Basin suggests all are emitting much more methane than would be expected from what Australia is reporting.
Ilse Aben, lead researcher on the paper, has told reporters that the figures do not add up.
She said that analysis of one surface mine showed it would be “responsible for roughly 20 per cent of the methane emissions, as reported by Australia for the total of all coal mines”.
“It is one surface mine and there are 73 surface mines in Australia,” she said.
“If this one mine already gives a 20 per cent contribution, then it is unlikely that the total is right.”
With several independent research efforts now spotting anomalies in Australia’s official figures, the experts say more studies are needed to verify the results and figures.