The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report notes just how damaging rampant methane emissions can be, citing methane as a major factor in lower crop yields and rising global temperatures. According to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), “methane is the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone” and “80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” The Louisiana plume was so intense, Kayrros SAS found that it took an estimated 105 tons of methane emitted per hour to create it. The Alabama plume saw bursts of methane emitted at about 58 tons per hour, while the New Mexico plume was created by a sustained emission of methane at about 39 tons per hour.
None of this is new, as you can see by the interactive map depicting hundreds of plumes emitted over the course of 2019 and 2020. For every location that lacks a number of tons of methane per hour emitted, Kayrros SAS says it simply doesn’t know just how strong the blast was, but that it was large enough to be observed by satellite. Over the course of the next few months—and likely even longer—I’ll be digging into these freak emissions incidents to locate what oil and gas facilities they’re near (active and not) that fall within and just outside of Kayrros SAS’ 15-kilometer uncertainty range as well as which communities are impacted. For example, the lone plume in California was observed near an agriculture-heavy area that includes cattle ranches and farms as well as copious oil and gas operators like Chevron and Aera Energy, the latter of which is jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil. Just over 17% of residents in Fresno county live in poverty, and more than half of residents identify as Latino or Hispanic. The city of Fresno itself has such extreme disparities that Fresno State launched an Unequal Neighborhoods program to study them.
The amount of plumes clouding the atmosphere in the U.S. is nothing compared to the amount of plumes observed from space above countries like Russia, China, and Turkmenistan. The European Space Agency (ESA), which operates the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite that typically logs methane plumes, earlier this year urged the Biden administration to continue its work on reducing emissions and monitoring the greenhouse gases that do enter the atmosphere. The ESA lauded Biden for making good on a campaign promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement and even cited the work done during the COP26 to ensure that countries made accelerated efforts to reach net-zero. “Limiting the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere is absolutely essential to achieving these goals and to averting disaster. As nations around the world take steps to drastically curb carbon emissions, measuring and monitoring carbon dioxide and methane gases in our atmosphere is key to helping nations show that they are accomplishing their emission reduction goals,” the ESA noted.