Methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is a serious problem for our climate and communities, but it’s one most people aren’t even aware of. That’s because, while methane is a powerful pollutant, it is colorless, odorless and invisible to the naked eye.
But residents of Southern California’s Porter Ranch neighborhood had their eyes opened wide to the methane problem when a natural gas storage well in nearby Aliso Canyon ruptured and created a massive leak right next to their homes – an incident detected by residents in October from the putrid smell of mercaptan, an additive utilities use to more easily detect natural gas leaks.
Natural gas is made mostly of methane, and when it is released unburned, it has a warming power over 84 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years. So, leaking or intentionally emitting unburned natural gas – which happens not just through malfunctions but often during routine production and transportation of oil and gas – can do major climate damage. The California Air Resources Board estimates that Aliso Canyon is pumping out methane at about 50,000 kg per hour, or about 62 million standard cubic feet, per day – that’s the same short-term greenhouse gas impact as the emissions from 7 million cars.
Now, on day 48 in a very uncertain timeline of the one of the largest U.S. natural gas leaks ever recorded, infrared cameras are giving us a true glimpse at the size of this man-made methane volcano. Looking at side-by-side images of Aliso Canyon taken on Dec. 9 using an everyday camera and one equipped with infrared technology reveals just how blind we are to this kind of pollution:
Last week, it appeared that the Southern California Gas Company was close to containing the flow of natural gas coming from a monster leak at its Aliso Canyon storage field in Northridge, California. Now, four weeks after it started, the leak persists, and data released Friday, from the California Air Resources Board shows that the uncontrolled emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, is having significant climate change impacts in addition to affecting public health.
Using data collected from airplanes flying near the leak site, and supported by data gathered from vehicles, satellites and nearby air monitoring platforms, the Air Board’s initial estimates show the rupture at Aliso Canyon has released methane gas with an estimated warming impact over the next 20 years equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions of 2.6 to 2.9 million metric tons. While these estimates are likely to be refined over time and compared to facility estimates of lost gas, conducting aerial methane surveys to calculate emissions rates is a proven scientific measurement method.
These are staggering numbers, even in their preliminary form. Read More
More than a hundred frightened local residents packed a room at the Porter Ranch Community School for three hours last week, looking for answers about the foul stench caused by a massive natural gas leak nearby. Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility has been leaking vast amounts of noxious gas into the air for two weeks, with still no end in sight.
Environmental health risks abound
The familiar rotten-egg smell of mercaptan – which utilities add to the normally odorless gas – hangs in the air for at least a mile, a pungent reminder of the potential health, safety and environmental risks of the uncontained airborne spill. Natural gas is mostly methane; a powerful pollutant that contributes to smog formation and global climate change, packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the Western U.S., operating under intense injection pressures and holding huge amounts of methane. Read More
Keep reading for an overview or dig right into a new Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) policy brief on transportation fuel prices and the proposed 50 percent fossil fuel reduction for more details.
If you are a movie buff, you might remember Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray’s character had to relive the same day over and over again. Well, if you live in California, you probably feel like the existing gasoline and diesel system is on the same style of hamster wheel (i.e. roller coaster prices, Californians paying more than the rest of the country, and the petroleum industry spending the money you pay at the pump to lobby against any change).
As the 2015 legislative season comes to a close, a new script can be written for the state’s transportation fuel system in the form of SB 350 (De León). This effort would reduce petroleum use by 50 percent and in the process could reduce overall gas prices in California, reduce seasonal and annual volatility, and inject healthy competition into fuel markets that retain and create jobs across the state.
Understanding how SB 350 can help fuel consumers across California is actually pretty simple. Since the vast amount of California’s fuel is sold by a limited number of providers and drivers primarily rely on a single type of specialized fuel (CARB reformulated gasoline) – there is basically no competition in the market or choices available to consumers. Therefore, decisions by fuel providers to fix refineries or upgrade pipelines have impacts that directly affect the price Californians see at the pump, as well as how much profit or loss those same fuel providers experience. With significant profit margins and a massive fuel consumption rate, it’s no wonder the petroleum industry is trying to retain the status quo where they can single handedly inflate gas prices and profits. Read More
Last week, the U.S. EPA released a historic proposal for new rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, a step toward meeting the ambitious national goal of reducing these emissions 40 to 45 percent in the next decade. California is a step ahead, with new regulations already in development to cut methane from oil and gas operations within its borders.
Even as the rest of the nation begins to catch up, it’s critical that California continues to move forward with developing state standards that complement the federal rules, and go even further when necessary.
Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are a massive problem – the industry emits more than 7 million tons of the potent greenhouse gas each year, equivalent to the 20-year climate impact of 160 coal-fired power plants. And the latest scientific research indicates the problem is even bigger than we think. For example, a study published just last week says previously unrecorded emissions from thousands of gathering facilities are eight times higher than estimates, and would increase the current inventory of methane emissions by almost 25 percent. Read More
Cutting gas and diesel use in California has been a focus of Sacramento policy makers for years. After all, fuel combustion chokes our state with exhaust, releases a massive amount of global warming pollution, and undermines our economic security. And, at nearly 20 billion gallons of total use per year costing drivers over $50 billion a year – with much of the money flowing directly out of the state – it is no small challenge.
Despite many in-state efforts to cut gas and diesel use over the past decade, population and economic growth have erased many of the fuel use reductions achieved. This year, through dedication by Governor Brown and the legislature to fight climate change and make California stronger, there are promising solutions on the horizon. The solution making the biggest splash is SB 350 (De León) – a bill currently before the legislature – proposing (among other things) a statewide goal of 50 percent petroleum use reduction by the year 2030. With this ambitious goal, California can and will make real progress towards meeting its transportation needs using less oil for the years to come.
Understanding how California can meet a 50 percent petroleum use reduction goal by 2030, and why this goal is good for the state, hinges on four key concepts (explained in more detail here). Read More