A huge methane gas leak detected in Kazakhstan worries scientists about its “devastating” impact on the climate

A methane cloud in eastern Kazakhstan observed by satellite on July 23 (Kayrros SAS/Data generated by Kayrros under license from ASI Original PRISMA product – © Italian Space Agency)

The explosion of a natural gas well in a remote region of kazakhstan has caused a huge methane leakaccording to the scientists, demonstrating the risks of prospecting for fossil fuels.

According to the French geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS, the satellites observed giant methane clouds who were leaving the place at least nine times in the month prior to July 23. His findings were widely corroborated by scientists at the Dutch Institute for Space Research SRON.

the kazakh company Buzachi Neft LLPbased in Almaty, confirmed in an emailed statement on August 1 that on June 9 there was an accident in exploration well No. 303 of the gas field Karaturun Vostochny, in eastern Kazakhstan, and stated that the deposit has not stopped burning since then. However, he stated that the satellite images probably showed clouds of hot steam with minimal traces of greenhouse gas.

The Kazakh Ministry of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

Scientists who use satellite observations to track greenhouse gas emissions disagreed with Buzachi Neft’s assessment.

It is extremely unlikely to confuse water vapor with methane in multiple images. captured by two hyperspectral satellites, whose very high spectral resolution leaves little doubt about the nature of the observed gas,” Kayrros said in a statement. Hyperspectral satellites collect data from the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

At least two satellites – the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P and the Italian Space Agency’s Prisma – have observed the plumes. Sentinel-5P’s spectrometer was specifically designed to detect methane.

(Kayrros SAS)
(Kayrros SAS)

Although Buzachi Neft claimed the fire was burning the leaking gas, satellites have previously observed significant methane plumes from blowouts and even from specific flares that they mix the fuel with oxygen in order to burn the gas and convert it into carbon dioxide.

Kayrros calculates that the emissions of the location oscillate between 35 and 107 metric tons of methane per hour, based on satellite detections. If that is true, the methane continuously spewing from this site since June 9 has inflicted the same short-term climate damage that the annual emissions from about 814,000 US cars at the lower end of the scale and 2.49 million cars at the top end. According to the geoanalytics company, it is probably the worst methane leak attributable to a single source so far this year.

SRON said the average rate of methane plume emissions it attributed to the incident using observations from the Sentinel-5P satellite was about 100 metric tons of methane per hour. Of the roughly 1,200 methane plumes the group has detected so far this year around the world, only 10% have exceeded 100 tons per hour.

Satellites detect methane concentrations from space by analyzing the way sunlight reflects off Earth. As light passes through a cloud of gas, its intensity weakens at certain wavelengths. Methane absorbs light in the shortwave infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and has a devastating impact on the climate because its warming power is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. As the planet warms rapidly and triggers extreme weather events, from wildfires to heat waves, countries are getting more serious about tracking and stopping preventable methane leaks, in what could be one of the more powerful measures to curb global warming.

Methane leaking from the site on July 17. Source: Kayrros SAS.  Data generated by Kayrros under a license from ASI Original PRISMA Product - © Italian Space Agency (ASI) - (2023)
Methane leak on July 17 (Kayrros SAS/ASI via Bloomberg)

Both the European Union and the United States are drawing up new rules to limit methane emissions, and some 150 countries have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative that aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by the end of this decade. Although Kazakhstan is not one of the signatory countries, in September it signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to work on adherence to the commitment.

According to Buzachi Neft, the epicenter of the fire in Kazakhstan burns at around 650ºC, burning natural gas escaping from the reservoir and generating steam. In a statement sent to Bloomberg on July 31, the company stated that the field was expelling about 12,000 cubic meters of natural gas per day.

Buzachi Neft, its contractor who drilled the well, Zaman Energo Ltd, several other companies and the Ministry of Emergency Situations are joining forces to seal the leak.

Workers are drilling two directional relief wells that they hope will divert gas to controlled flares., according to the exploration company. It is also planned to flood the leak with water to stop the flow of gas and allow workers to seal it. These works will be carried out this month and are expected to be completed on September 1.

© Bloomberg 2023