New Satellite Data Shows Appalachian Basin Emits More Methane than Permian Basin

Photo: Ohio River Valley Institute

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The Appalachian Basin discharged more methane last year than the Permian Basin —in Texas and New Mexico — leaving Appalachia the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the nation. Satellite data from Karryos, a global asset observation platform, showed that the Appalachian basin emitted 2.4 million tons of methane in 2020, while the Permian Basin emitted 2 million tons.  Forty-two percent of the Appalachian methane came from coal mines, while the Permian methane came from oil and natural gas production. Appalachia has produced coal since the 19th century, and it has recently become an important source of natural gas. The combination of coal mines and gas wells in the region makes it difficult to tell which are emitting more methane. 

Why this Matters: There are an estimated 538,000 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells in the Ohio River Valley states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky alone, and plugging them could cost more than $34 billion. Capping all those leaking orphan wells and cleaning up abandoned mines will make a real difference in controlling methane emissions from the rust belt. as well as creating over 30,000 well-paying, local jobs at the same time. This study is the first time that methane emissions from coal have been quantified in a comprehensive manner. The results are startling: methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so the Appalachian emissions match that of 30 million cars

Plug Ins

Karryos collected this data from the European Union’s Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-2 satellites, which monitor, find and allocate methane emissions across the world. This form of data collection allowed Karryos to measure the intensity of methane emissions as well as amounts, finding that the Permian and Anadarko Basins had a higher intensity of emissions even though the Appalachian basin emitted more methane overall. Because Appalachian gas is “non-associated,” it’s the only hydrocarbon fuel produced in the area. Meanwhile, in the Permian Basin, methane is a byproduct of oil production, so it is emitted more intensely. 

Karryos suggests that large methane emissions like the kind seen in Appalachia are a result not only of continued fossil fuel production but also of insufficient or poorly maintained infrastructure for natural gas gathering, processing, and transportation. Identifying the sources of this methane can serve as the first step in addressing emissions in the region. 

To Go Deeper: Check out these two reports from the Ohio River Valley Institute on how Appalachia can tackle the climate crisis while creating thousands of local jobs.

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