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New satellite technology reveals Ohio gas leak released 60K tons of methane

A new report revealed that the first satellite designed to monitor the earth with a new instrument called TROPOMI for methane leaks discovered that an accident at a fracking site in Belmont County, Ohio, in February 2018 resulted in one of the worst methane leaks ever recorded in the US.

The methane released into the atmosphere from the Ohio fracking site exceeded the annual output of all but three European countries.

The findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by scientists from the EDF, SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and Utrecht University.

The article is titled, “Satellite observations reveal extreme methane leakage from a natural gas well blowout.”

Methane is a potent human-made greenhouse gas that is responsible for more than 25% of global warming. The oil and gas industry is the largest source of methane. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

As the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reports, “Emissions from the Ohio event would have totaled about 60,000 tons. That figure is comparable to one-quarter of the entire state of Ohio’s reported annual oil and gas methane emissions.”

The EDF continues:

For example, a five-year series of studies organized by EDF recently concluded that emissions from the US oil and gas sector were a full 60% higher than EPA estimates.

These factors underscore the importance of regular, widespread monitoring and measurement, and explain the rapidly growing interest in space-based instruments, which have the potential to provide comprehensive estimates of methane emissions, how much, and where.

Electrek’s Take

There’s good news and bad news in this story.

First, the good news: TROPOMI provides a more accurate way to track methane leaks. And bravo to the Dutch and American scientists for uncovering the truth about the extent of the Ohio leak’s damage.

The bad news: This leak was incredibly damaging to the environment. Further, the fact that emissions from fossil fuels turned out to be much worse than we originally thought, in general, is extremely alarming.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t even know the full extent of the damage that oil and gas emissions do (although the EPA seems to be working more against than for the environment these days).

Hopefully, this bad news can be turned into good if US regulatory bodies and legislation do something to, at the very least, contain these leaks, prevent them from happening, and ideally, eventually move away from fracking and natural gas use altogether.

One more time: Natural gas is a fossil fuel.

Photo: Ohio State Highway Patrol

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.