The most severe cloud of methane detected in Australia in more than a year was spotted last month by satellite over one of the country’s top coal producing regions.
The October 17 plume was observed over the Bowen Basin in Queensland and had an estimated emissions rate of 76 tonnes of methane an hour, according to Kayrros SAS, which analysed observations from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite.
The geoanalytics company said that given the high concentration of mines in the plume’s vicinity and its shape, it could have originated from multiple sources.
“Intermittent methane releases from underground mines, such as the ones mentioned, are a part of normal operations,” Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said in an emailed response to questions.
The agency is implementing a methane accounting system using Sentinel data “to assess the implications of methane releases, such as the one observed in the picture provided”, to help track emissions.
The nation is facing growing global criticism from climate activists who say it isn’t doing enough to cut emissions.
Australia won’t join a global effort led by the US and European Union to curb methane emissions, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said before the start of the COP26 global climate conference now underway in Glasgow.
The initiative, which includes 100 nations, aims to curb methane emissions at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by the end of the decade.
Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure.
Cheap technologies to mitigate coal mine emissions are widely available, according to climate research group Ember, while oil and gas companies can often profit from emissions reductions by selling the corralled methane as natural gas.
Higher methane emissions can result in part due to a region’s geography, and older and deeper coal seams typically emit more gas.
For every tonne of coal produced in the Bowen Basin region, an average of 7.5 kilograms of methane is released, a Kayrros analysis found earlier this year. That’s 47 per cent higher than the average global methane intensity estimated by the International Energy Agency, the company said at the time.