A major UK leak of the extremely potent greenhouse gas methane has been spotted from space for the first time.
The leak – seen by satellite – occurred over a three-month period at a gas main operated by Wales and West Utilities. The amount leaked could have powered 7,500 homes for a year.
Satellite detection shows the potential of picking up methane gas leaks quickly so they can be stopped sooner.
Methane has 28 times the heating potential of CO2.
It is responsible for about 30% of the rise in global temperatures.
The leak from a pipeline in Cheltenham revealed exclusively to the BBC, was discovered in March.
It was detected by Leeds University with the help of specialist satellites.
Emily Dowd, a PhD researcher at the university’s School of Earth and Environment and the National Centre for Earth Observation, had been using satellite imagery to assess methane leaks from landfill sites.
But she noticed on the images the distinct marker of a methane leak some miles away, coming from a gas pipeline owned by Wales and West Utilities.
Identifying and tackling methane emissions is a crucial objective of the UK and other countries seeking to tackle climate change.
Upon discovering the leak Ms Dowd worked with GHGSat – whose satellites provided the original images – to take further surveys from space, while a team from Royal Holloway University made on-the-ground round measurements.
Ms Dowd said: “Finding this leak brings a question of how many there are out there and maybe we need to be looking a bit harder to find them and take advantage of the technology we have.”
Wales and West Utilities said they became aware of the leak after a member of the public reported the smell of gas. They said they were in the process of obtaining the necessary permissions for replacing the gas mains when the leak was picked up by satellite.