Federal Government watching satellite technology to see if it should be used to measure methane emissions

The Federal Government has acknowledged new satellite techniques to measure methane emissions from coal mines “is valuable” but it wants more work to be done to ensure a higher level of reliability.

Earlier this month, Cosmos covered the story of the Hail Creek Mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, and a study, using satellite technology, which suggested it was potentially emitting 35 times more methane than it was reporting.

The results are controversial and known to the Government.

A statement from the Government to Cosmos says it is committed to improving and maintaining the integrity of Australia’s emissions inventory “drawing on best available science, technology and data.”

A spokesperson for Chris Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, said: “New satellite data is valuable and opens up new possibilities to test and improve methane emissions estimates in national inventories, consistent with international guidelines.

“Australia will use this newly available satellite data in conjunction with bottom-up validation techniques to help ensure integrity in methane emissions estimates.”

“Bottom up validation” includes ground based measurements which are usually conducted by the resource owners.

The Government says: “…satellite data is not currently reliable enough on its own for emissions estimates, given technical challenges like visibility through clouds or estimates on uneven ground.”

Although some specialists, and the company, don’t think satellites are precise enough to be able to measure regular levels of emissions for reporting purposes, researchers like Professor Peter Rayner, a climate scientist at the Climate Energy College at Melbourne University, thinks they could supplement ‘bottom up’ reporting – where data comes from modelling and sampling.  

“Most of us recommend a multi-tier system at the moment combining satellites, aircraft and on-ground measurements,” says Rayner, an expert in the estimation of emissions data using satellites.

Rayner says satellites “will help spot super-emitters, but ‘normal’ quantification will be hard with just satellites unless the mine is isolated.”

The Morrison government published a preliminary analysis on the use of satellite data in emission estimation.

In the meantime Rayner says satellite measurement is only going to get better.

“This reflects my view that current national emissions are highly uncertain so even moderately useful measurements could help,” he says.

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