Ohio gas explosion in 2018 is one of worst methane leaks in America's history, reveals satellite

Scientists say the 2018 accidental Ohio gas leak pumped out around 132 tons of methane, every hour for 20 days, into the atmosphere


                            Ohio gas explosion in 2018 is one of worst methane leaks in America's history, reveals satellite
Last February, a natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio, blew, prompting the evacuation of about 100 residents within a 1-mile radius of the site. (Getty Images)

Spying on Earth from afar, a satellite is picking up alarming details of greenhouse emissions from Earth. Recently, it spat out information on the 2018 accidental Ohio gas leak, which pumped out around 132 tons of methane, every hour for 20 days, into the atmosphere.

This, according to a study that analyzed data from the satellite, is one of the worst leaks in America's history.

Methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, another dreaded greenhouse gas. "Methane stays in the atmosphere for about 10 years, gets transported across the globe and does not only stay where it is emitted," Isle Aben, from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and one of the study authors, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

Methane is hard to detect. Many were not aware of the scale of the leak, and as a result, the 2018 Ohio accident received little attention.

"With satellite technology, we see a promising solution, as it allows us to measure (methane emissions in) the whole world within a few days regularly," Dr Sudhanshu Pandey from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the lead author of the study, told MEAWW.

Measurements from satellites can detect emissions from the fossil fuel industry, as leaks can release large amounts of the gas in relatively short periods of time.

Methane stays in the atmosphere for about 10 years, gets transported across the globe and does not only stay where it is emitted. (Getty Images)

To gauge the extent of damage, Pandey and his colleagues relied on information from the satellite circling the Earth — Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI).

TROPOMI is the world's first space-based system to help identify sources of greenhouse gas emissions. As it passes over industrial facilities and cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, it can pick up details about emissions of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and various aerosols.

This prompted the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF-USA) to reach out to the team of scientists working on TROPOMI, informing them about the accident.

"This so-called explosion lasted 20 days before fixing. They asked us to look into TROPOMI data to check if we can measure the released methane," Pandey told MEAWW.

The analysis showed that the methane link was worse than the 2015 Aliso Canyon event in California — which is believed to be the worst single natural gas leak recorded in US history.

The Ohio explosion released 132 metric tons of methane per hour, which is twice that of the widely reported Aliso Canyon event, says the study.

While the emission rate of the Ohio event was higher, the California event lasted longer and produced more emissions overall, The New York Times reported.

In the future, satellite data can inform people about the levels of atmospheric gases. More specifically, it will play a critical role in the Stocktake program of the Paris climate accord: created to ensure that the participants achieve the purpose of the agreement and its long-term goals, according to Pandey.

"Even commercial companies have realized the potential and are launching their own atmosphere observing satellites to provide satellite measurement services," Pandey told MEAWW.
 
Besides monitoring carbon dioxide and methane emissions, Pandey says, satellite measuring technology can help in air quality monitoring and research, and quantifying of forest or biomass during forest fires.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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