Leaking Landfill Contributes to World’s Mystery Methane Hotspot
Young boys walk through garbage as pigs bathe in mud. (Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg)

Leaking Landfill Contributes to World’s Mystery Methane Hotspot

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A landfill in Bangladesh is leaking huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, according to the emissions-tracking company GHGSat Inc.

An April 17 observation from the company’s Hugo satellite shows a methane release originating from the Matuail Sanitary Landfill, said GHGSat President Stephane Germain. The company estimated the emissions rate at about 4,000 kilograms an hour, the planet-warming equivalent of running 190,000 traditional cars. The country’s environment ministry said it’s investigating.

Bangladesh has been a hotspot this year for emissions of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that’s about 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades in the atmosphere. Scientists and government officials are seeking the fastest and most cost-effective ways to curb heat-trapping gases.

Leaking Landfill Contributes to World’s Mystery Methane Hotspot

“We have for the first time been able to attribute emissions in Bangladesh to a specific source,” Germain said. “This is a large source but is still not sufficient to explain the large, sustained and diffuse emissions detected over the city. The situation remains a mystery and we will continue to monitor the area.”

The Matuail waste site is one of several sources that are probably producing methane plumes over Bangladesh this year, according to Montreal-based GHGSat. The 12 highest methane-emission rates detected this year in satellite data occurred over Bangladesh, according to analytics company Kayrros SAS.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is aware of the situation and has formed a technical committee to assess the extent of the problem, it said in an emailed response to Bloomberg questions.

“The committee is assigned to assess methane emission from Matuail sanitary landfill site” and also to suggest mitigation measures, the ministry said. Its report is due in a month.

The Matuail landfill spreads over 181 acres and accepts about 2,500 tons of waste a day, according to Sufiullah Siddik Bhuiyan, executive engineer of the Waste Management Department of Dhaka South City Corp. While the site has received funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency to help manage liquid waste and greenhouse gases, the landfill doesn’t have data on how much methane gas it generates, Bhuiyan said.

Scientists are just beginning to pinpoint the biggest sources of methane globally. Domesticated livestock, rice cultivation, leaks from the oil and gas industry and landfills are just some of the sources of the emissions, according to the Global Methane Initiative.

Leaking Landfill Contributes to World’s Mystery Methane Hotspot

Measures included in a 2018 short-lived climate pollutants-reduction plan would cut Bangladesh’s methane emissions up to 17-24% by 2030 and up to 25-36% by 2040, according to the statement from the environment ministry. Bangladesh has also worked with Danish assistance to reduce leaks from gas-pipeline distribution networks, it said.

Observations of methane from space can be seasonal due to cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity, according to Kayrros, which analyzes data from European Space Agency satellites. Offshore emissions and releases in higher latitudes such as the Arctic, where Russia has extensive oil and gas operations, can also be hard to track from space.

Bangladesh, which chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum, whose 48 members represent 1.2 billion people most threatened by climate change, is vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising oceans due to its low elevation and high population density.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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