General Kinematics

First-ever Satellite Capture of Methane Emissions from Trona Mining

August 27, 2021

For the first time, satellite observations of methane emissions from the largest trona deposit in the world were captured by a GHGSat commercial satellite.

The GHGSat captured the emissions from the trona mining area near Green River, WY, the largest natural trona deposit in the world.

Trona mining operations produce large quantities of methane emissions through fracturing of the rock to extract the ore that releases methane, which must be vented from the mine for safety reasons. While soda ash can be manufactured synthetically, about 35 percent of the world’s supply comes from natural sources.

GHGSat satellite technology detected and measured the methane emission with an estimated rate of nearly 950kg/h. While smaller than the average emission rate from coal mines observed by GHGSat satellites over the last six months, at a continuous rate if captured and processed into natural gas, the emission level measured could supply electricity for a year to approximately 37,000 homes.

The volume of methane measured presents a potential opportunity for mining operators in setting up an investment structure, by converting methane emissions into renewable energy.

In 2019, 16.4 Mt (18.1 million st) of trona were mined from the Green River Basin, with the region’s mines supplying around 90 percent of the soda ash used in the United States. According to Wyoming Mining, the U.S Geological Survey estimated (in 1997) the total US reserve of trona to be 115 Gt (127 billion st), with about 36 Gt (40 billion st) recoverable for use. The next largest natural trona reserve (around 873 Mt (962 million st) is located in Turkey with Botswana, China, Ethiopia, and Kenya also producing soda ash from natural sources.

Both the UN Global Methane Assessment 2021 and the recent IPCC Climate Report have highlighted the rapid increase in methane emissions in recent years – with scientists attributing between 30 and 50 percent of the current rise in global temperatures to this potent greenhouse gas. Reducing methane is now one of the quickest actions we can take to curb global warming.

Coal mining accounts for around 11 percent of global methane emissions and closed pits still leak greenhouse gas. GHGSat high-resolution satellite technology can identify and measure new methane emissions around the world every day, even small emissions, from a single mine vent. This first trona mine satellite observation has prompted GHGSat to monitor these sources of methane to help industry and governments understand their emissions. As operators are trying to find new ways to reduce their emissions, reliable and accurate data becomes increasingly critical to reach their carbon intensity targets.

Trona is a sodium carbonate compound extracted from underground mines and processed into soda ash. Predominantly used to manufacture glass for the automotive and construction industries it is also the raw material for baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), laundry, and cleaning products, used in the manufacture of cloth and paper.

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