A great thing happened today for the environment and people of California. On the very day we released new maps measuring methane leaking from natural gas lines under Los Angeles-area streets, the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) announced they would begin publishing their own maps showing the locations of leaks they find on their system.
It is a positive move that brings the company a big step closer to complying with the California law requiring them to publish not only the whereabouts of known leaks, but also the amount of methane escaping (which their newly announced maps do not). The public has a right to know where and how much harmful air pollution is being emitted by SoCalGas and any other company in California.
It is precisely the ability to accurately measure this leak rate quickly and cost effectively that makes Environmental Defense Fund’s mapping project so important for the natural gas utility industry, and it is the reason we have spent nearly three years working with Google Earth Outreach and researchers at Colorado State University to pilot this important technology (which we plan to make available on an open source basis).
Methane is a potent climate pollutant, packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. That means it is both a serious challenge, and a major opportunity to make a big dent in our total greenhouse emissions quickly. It’s also an issue that has mostly been ignored until recently. But now California is leading the country in requiring gas utilities to both measure and reduce the amount of methane they are leaking.
We commend SoCalGas for taking their first big step on the road to a solution.
Methane, refrigerants, black carbon – these are all pollutants that fall within a class of global warming agents known as SLCPs, or short-lived climate pollutants. As the name suggests, each has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than their better-known cousin, carbon dioxide (CO2) – but at the same time each is more potent (and works in different ways) than CO2 at warming the planet.
While SLCPs are a serious problem – responsible for nearly a quarter of the warming we’re experiencing today – cutting them is a huge opportunity to have almost an immediate benefit on slowing global climate change.
SLCPs and California Climate Policy
On April 30, Governor Jerry Brown announced new statewide targets for all greenhouse gas emissions – stating by executive order that all GHGs must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. And, while many may be asking what more the state can do to cut more GHGs to meet the governor’s overall goal, on May 7 the Air Resources Board demonstrated that SLCP reductions are going to play a major role.
The new SLCP plan (released as a concept paper) didn’t receive a tremendous amount of fanfare. That lack of attention isn’t surprising – the SLCP plan after all is about a specific class of pollutants that is named by a rather obscure acronym. But, while the pomp of the governor’s executive order to cut all GHGs may have stolen the show on April 30, the May 7 plan may have just as much circumstance. Read More
Oil and gas geothermal fields in California, 2001
Methane from oil and gas operations is a serious climate risk, but also a ripe opportunity to make a huge dent in overall greenhouse emissions. This past week, one state took a big, and long-awaited, step to address the challenge.
While we wait for the Environmental Protection Agency to release draft federal methane rules this summer, the California Air Resources Board has just released a draft of the most comprehensive and forward thinking regulations to cut methane pollution from oil and gas yet.
While the April 22 proposal still needs work – such as in the area of how often equipment needs to be inspected and how best to reduce venting associated with well unloading and other activities – it’s a big and fundamental step in the right direction. It has the potential to deliver what the rest of the country needs – comprehensive equipment standards on new and existing sources for both oil and gas operations, and enhanced leak detection and repair requirements across the methane value chain.
But the benefits will be felt closest to home first. Read More
Los Angeles City Council members Paul Koretz and Tom LaBonge at a press conference prior to the event
Los Angeles has a methane problem. Recent analysis by NASA and CalTech reveals that concentrations of methane in the Los Angeles basin are more than 60 percent higher than previously estimated. That’s a serious issue, because the invisible, heat-trapping gas packs a volatile climate change punch that is 84 times greater than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released.
The good news is that cutting methane pollution is a no-nonsense, can’t-lose proposition for fighting climate change. A dynamic discussion of solutions to the methane challenge brought nearly 200 people to a symposium in downtown Los Angeles last week.
The event was sponsored by EDF, in partnership with Climate Resolve and 11 other organizations representing diverse communities across California. Participants heard from climate change and methane experts from leading academic and research institutions about the science of methane pollution and what can be done to control it. The event drew officials from local, state, and federal agencies; utility representatives; business leaders; and a large array of concerned citizens.
NBC4 Los Angeles has a great story HERE.
Much has been written about the causes of the recent downturn in world oil prices. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to hear that many places which derive a significant share of their economic activity from oil production have begun to feel the effects of this downturn.
As less money is taken from the sale of each barrel of oil produced, both major and local economies alike – from Alberta, to Texas, the Middle East, and Kern County – have seen a rapid decline in their tax base and overall economic output. In some cases, the drop in oil money has been so rapid and significant that some jurisdictions have declared fiscal emergencies.
Whether from layoffs at oil and gas operators, or government program cuts due to reduced tax collection, the downturn associated with reduced oil and gas profits shows just how fragile, and damaging, the fossil fuel-based economy can be. Just as families are hit in the pocketbook when prices at the pump shoot up, so too are many family livelihoods hurt when prices plummet. With this lose-lose proposition, we need to know now: are other options available?
Thankfully, there is another way. A new report released today from the fuels and energy consulting firm Promotum, (commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Union of Concerned Scientists) shows that an abundance of locally-based, alternative fuels is on the horizon. According to Promotum, the state is on track to achieve significant fuel diversification by 2020 and cut carbon emissions associated with fuel production and use. This positive forecast also means we can expect prolonged domestic economic growth from emergent alternative fuel companies up and down the state. Read More
Make no mistake, California is a leader when it comes to improving air quality and deploying unprecedented amounts of cleaner, low-carbon fuels. However, despite years of efforts to cut vehicle emissions and reduce fossil fuel consumption, California remains in the top spot nationally for gasoline use, and is home to the top five most polluted cities in the country.
In addition, as the state and surrounding region continues to cut petroleum usage and clean up the environment – yielding major climate benefits – economic growth in emerging markets across the world means that our efforts are being undercut by increases in use elsewhere.
For California to truly deliver in in the fight against climate change, we must not only cut fossil fuel use and deploy cleaner alternatives at home, but also create solutions that deliver benefits abroad. In other words, we should aim to export our best transportation policies abroad – the ones that have helped California reduce fossil fuel use yet still help foster economic opportunities and growth.
A range of current policies are helping drive new technologies that yield low carbon vehicles and fuels
Over the past 15 years, California has given birth to the some of the most ambitious and successful climate change related transportation policies imaginable. For example, in 2002 the legislature adopted the Pavley Clean Cars law (AB 1493) which set greenhouse gas standards for automobiles. This law eventually led to new national vehicle efficiency standards and the production of a new wave of more efficient and cleaner cars and trucks.