Methane Cloud Over Australia Coincided With Pipeline Gas Release

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Australia’s Epic Energy initially said its pipeline didn’t leak methane. Regulators said it did.

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(Bloomberg) — Last month, a satellite flew over the dry, arid landscape of South Australia state’s Cooper Basin and spotted a large cloud of the super potent greenhouse gas methane.

The plume was observed Nov. 23 near a few petroleum-producing fields and a natural gas pipeline owned by Epic Energy South Australia Pty. The company initially told Bloomberg News there were no incidents or work on its Moomba-to-Adelaide conduit over that timeframe in the vicinity of the plume that could have caused it.

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“We are not aware of any methane release in the area which have resulted from our operations,’’  Stephen Mudge, general manager of strategy and business development at Epic, said in an email Dec. 7.

A subsequent investigation by the South Australia Department for Energy and Mining found just the opposite. Compressor Station 1 on the pipeline experienced a pressure safety valve gas release on Nov. 22 and 23, the regulator said in an email Dec. 15. The agency said it didn’t know how much methane was released.

When Bloomberg News contacted Epic about the release disclosed by regulators, the company said that it had subsequently discovered the Nov. 22 release while investigating a separate incident on the same compressor station from this month.

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“On the 8th of December we did have a pressure safety valve release at compressor station 1 on the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline,’’ Mudge said in an email Dec. 16. “Following this event an investigation was instigated to determine the reasons behind this. During the course of this investigation it was determined that there was also a release of gas from this pressure safety valve overnight on the 22nd of November. Epic has now undertaken the necessary works to overhaul the pressure safety valve and detection sensor.’’

For decades officials have mostly had to trust fossil fuel operators to self-report emissions. That’s changing as satellites and other measuring campaigns add to a growing body of empirical evidence that is driving climate transparency and holding emitters accountable. Methane is the primary component of natural gas and has a devastating impact on the climate if released directly into the atmosphere. More than 120 nations, including Australia, have joined a global initiative to cut emissions of the gas by 30% by 2030.

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Bloomberg News has used satellite observations since July 2020 to identify about 70 methane releases linked to the energy and waste sectors from Argentina to Turkmenistan, including almost two dozen in the United States. The coverage has triggered government investigations in the US and Bangladesh. Most methane emissions globally go unreported.

The methane plume in South Australia had an estimated emissions rate of 46 metric tons of methane an hour, according to geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS, which analyzed satellite data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. The short-term climate impact of the leak, if it lasted an hour at the rate estimated by Kayrros, would be equivalent to the annual emissions from more than 800 US cars. 

Mudge didn’t respond to a follow up email asking how much methane was leaked and the duration of the release.

News of the Australia pipeline release comes amid growing tension between the nation’s natural gas exporters and lawmakers, who last week passed a law to cap domestic prices of natural gas to limit the impact of soaring global costs on local power bills. Australia’s LNG producers have been vocal in their opposition to the government’s plans. 

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