The Nord Stream gas pipeline leak may have been the largest single methane leak from human-made infrastructure in history, but it was not significant enough to cause a measurable impact on Earth’s climate, a new study finds.
The study by Chinese researchers analyzed satellite data to estimate its scale Nord Stream gas leak. They found that about 250,000 metric tons (275,000 tons) of methane escaped from the two pipelines that burst into the Baltic Sea in late September under suspicious circumstances widely attributed to Russian sabotage as part of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas, known to be tens of times more warming than carbon dioxide. Although methane makes up only 11% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Service (opens in new tab)its contribution to global warming by climate change is important.
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Methane naturally leaks from decomposition but also escapes from landfills and agricultural operations. The major contributor to global methane emissions is the oil and gas industry, which releases about 77 million tons (70 million metric tons) of methane each year. That means the Nord Stream incident produced the equivalent of about a day’s worth of methane emissions across the entire oil and gas sector, the researchers said in a statement (opens in new tab). That much methane would only warm the planet by 0.000018 degrees Celsius (0.00001 degrees Fahrenheit), the researchers calculated.
“Such small warming cannot be felt in ecosystems or human society,” Xiaolong Chen, a climatologist at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and first author of the study, said in the statement. “However, anthropogenic methane is the second largest contributor to global warming and is emitted by many sectors of agriculture and industry. If we are going to meet the target of warming below 1.5 degrees C or 2 degrees C [2.7 to 3.6 degrees F] as set out in the Paris Agreement, damage to infrastructure like this should be avoided so we can better control and reduce methane emissions.”
Satellite measurements had previously revealed this Methane often leaks from oil and gas pipelines and processing facilities as a result of negligent conduct. Many of these leaks go unreported, meaning emissions are not officially counted. In recent years, satellites including Canadian GHGSat and Europe Guard 5 began measuring methane emissions from space, providing for the first time an accurate overview of the main sources of emissions around the world.
The European Space Agency announced last year will develop a dedicated satellite constellation to measure anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide emissions from space. Due to high background carbon dioxide concentrations earth’s atmospheretracing individual sources of this greenhouse gas is much more difficult than with methane.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in 2021, the global community agreed that more objective ways of monitoring emissions are needed to make progress on action against climate change. Currently, countries self-report their emissions based on the performance of their fossil fuel-consuming industries. As a result, emissions resulting from unreported spills and incidents may not be accounted for at all.
The study (opens in new tab) was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Science on November 11.