Huge methane cloud spotted above Mpumalanga’s coal fields

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Huge methane cloud spotted above Mpumalanga’s coal fields

Two more plumes of the greenhouse gas detected nearby, but two mining giants claim to not know its source

Paul Burkhardt and Aaron Clark

A cloud of methane was detected by satellite near coal mines in SA, drawing attention to a lesser-known environmental risk that comes from using the dirtiest fossil fuel.

The potent greenhouse gas — methane traps roughly 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere — was emitted at an estimated rate of 65 tons an hour on May 10, according to Kayrros. The Paris-based analytics company found the leak by parsing European Space Agency satellite observations. It was the worst plume of methane Kayrros detected in the data over Africa this year.

The cloud was spotted about 125km east of Johannesburg in an area where Sasol has several coal mines as well as chemical and fuel operations. Sasol said it didn’t record any elevated methane levels that day and that emissions from its mining operations “are highly diluted and dispersed over a wide geographical area”. Anglo American said its open-cast Isibonelo mine located nearby was “highly unlikely to emit the levels” estimated by Kayrros...

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