A team of scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) has detected massive plumes of methane from an offshore production platform operated by Mexican state-owned oil company Pemex in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ESA used satellite data and found that the Zaap-C platform in the Ku-Maloob-Zap shallow-water field in the Bay of Campeche area released high volumes of methane during what has been described as a “17-day ultra-emission event”.

According to the ESA, the event amounted to approximately 40,000 tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in December 2021.

“These emissions are equivalent to around 3% of Mexico’s annual oil and gas emissions and this single event would have a similar magnitude of the entire regional annual emissions from Mexico’s offshore region,” the ESA wrote in a study.

It was the first time that individual methane plumes from offshore production platforms were mapped from space.

The ESA added the event was likely related to abnormal flaring activity in the platform and that it was a one-time incident.

Luis Guanter, a professor from the Valencia Polytechnic University, explained the results demonstrate how satellites can detect methane plumes from offshore infrastructure.

“This represents a breakthrough in the monitoring of industrial methane emissions from space, as it opens the door to systematic monitoring of emissions from individual offshore platforms,” he added.

Researchers now intend to expand the work to other offshore oil and gas production regions in the world using the two satellites that detected methane emissions in the Zaap-C platform.

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide but it is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

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