(Bloomberg) -- A potent cloud of the planet-warming greenhouse gas methane was spotted by satellite earlier this month near natural gas pipelines in Iowa. 

State and federal regulators said they couldn’t identify the source of the methane, which is the main component of natural gas and has 80 times the global-warming power of carbon dioxide for the first two decades after it’s released into the atmosphere.The plume originated within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of a line operated by Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Northern Natural Gas Co. and within 10 kilometers of the Alliance Pipeline run by Enbridge Inc., according to an analysis of European Space Agency satellite data by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS. Northern Natural Gas ``did not experience any abnormal operating conditions in the area’’ around the time of the satellite observation and the company reports required natural gas emissions, spokesman Mike Loeffler said. An Alliance Pipeline representative said the company wasn’t aware of any such release.There’s no oil, gas or coal production in the vicinity and a U.S. government database that maps most of the country’s major natural gas pipelines doesn’t show any others nearby, according to Kayrros. Local distribution lines aren’t included in the database.The emissions rate needed to generate the plume was 34 metric tons of methane an hour, Kayrros estimated, which would have had roughly the same short-term climate-warming impact as the annual emissions from more than 600 U.S. cars if it lasted that long.Northern Natural Gas hasn’t done any work in the area for the last couple of weeks because of cold weather, said Tammie Krausman, an official with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s oil and natural gas companies. The agency wasn’t aware of a release that matched the timing and location of the plume observed by satellite. 

The Pipeline and Hazard Materials Safety Administration, a federal agency that regulates pipelines, said it hadn’t received a report of such a release from any operator in the area.Northern Natural Gas said in October that it released about 21.8 million cubic feet of natural gas over approximately three hours while fixing a leak on one of its U.S. pipelines. The discharge was one of the worst releases attributed to the oil and gas sector in the U.S. last year, and had the same short-term climate-warming impact as the annual emissions from more than 7,700 U.S. vehicles.Identifying and halting accidental and intentional methane releases from fossil fuel operations is one of the easiest and most effective steps that can be taken to help keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5° Celsius and to maintain a pathway toward a net zero energy system by 2050.

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