Satellite data has revealed massive methane emissions, a strong greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming, in China's largest coal production region.
The leak in northeast Shanxi province is one of the largest that geoanalytics company Kayrros SAS has so far linked to the worldwide coal sector, and it is presumably the result of many mining operations.
Details collected via the European Space Agency satellite reveal the plume in Yangquan City, around 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Shanxi's capital Taiyuan. According to the Shanxi Energy Bureau, the area has 34 coal mines.
Kayrros said the emissions rate necessary to produce the plume seen in the satellite image would be several hundred metric tons per hour. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, a 200-ton per hour emission would cause nearly the same amount of climatic warming in the first two decades as 800,000 cars traveling at 60 miles per hour.
Efforts to reduce coal consumption have been centered on the high amount of carbon produced when it is burned. However, mining the fuel is particularly difficult because producers frequently release methane trapped in underground operations to reduce the risk of explosion.
China is the world's largest producer as well as consumer of coal. According to a United Nations assessment, the industry represents the country's greatest opportunity to reduce methane emissions. For the first time, China's newest five-year plan included a pledge to limit the gas, which traps nearly 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide, in the first 20 years after it is emitted.
President Xi Jinping has set a goal for the government to begin cutting coal consumption in 2026, with the ultimate goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.