Author Archives: Tim O'Connor

Texas Methane Leaks are a Problem—for California

CA TXAliso Canyon was a big methane release, especially in Los Angeles, but in the grand scheme of methane released every day by the nation’s oil and gas industry, it was a blip. And recent footage from Texas, coupled with a new study of over 8,000 oil and gas wells gives a glimpse at the kind of leaks that are happening outside of California’s borders – leaks that have huge implications for the state.

The Texas infrared footage shows a cloud of methane leaking from a pump jack in an oil field in Texas’ Permian Basin. While these smaller leaks may not be as egregious as the one at Aliso Canyon, they often go undetected and unaddressed, adding up to a large amount of pollution. And as these leaks happen in Texas – with little plans to stop them – the climate footprint of the gas supply system continues to increase.

So what does this have to do with California? California imports nearly 90 percent of its natural gas from regions across western North America, with a large portion coming from Texas production areas like the Permian and Anadarko basins. To put it another way: when it comes to the climate, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. So even while progress is happening to cut oil and gas pollution in the Golden State, there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure imported gas isn’t responsible for significant climate damage before it gets here. Read More »

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A Successful Cleanup at Aliso Canyon Requires a Principled Approach

aliso pic 2The leak in Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon Facility released a massive amount of methane – a powerful climate change pollutant. Like other catastrophes, now that the pollution release is stemmed, the focus shifts towards cleanup and mitigation (as well as establishing causation, preventing recurrence, and pursuing legal actions).

Last week California took a major step on the cleanup front with the release of the final Aliso Canyon mitigation plan, a plan to cut pollution equal to about 100,000 metric tons of methane. Its aims to achieve these reductions by focusing on the agriculture and waste sectors, increasing energy efficiency and decreasing use of fossil fuels, and reducing methane “hot spots.”

While the portfolio of strategies laid out within the finalized plan is strong, this is only the beginning of a lengthy process, and one in which pushback from SoCalGas is already palpable. As the critical details of the mitigation plan are put into action, adherence to core principles is necessary to ensure mitigation from the Aliso Canyon disaster is a success story for the climate and people of California. Read More »

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California Looks to Modernize Natural Gas Utilities, Presents a National Model

Methane leaking from pipes before natural gas is delivered to customers can have a large, harmful impact on the climate.  This idea was first brought to light in a major scientific paper published in 2012, and supported by numerous papers since.  For California, a climate leader, and a state that consumes 10 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply – this leakage epiphany was and continues to be a very big deal.

Last week, after years of science, politics, and policy deliberations, the state took one of its boldest steps yet in the quest to cut methane escaping from its vast network of aging pipes underneath city streets – a move that should result in a new direction for California, and likely for utilities across the nation.

That move, taking the form of a 28-page report and staff recommendations from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as part of the implementation of a 2014 law (SB 1371), proposes to require utilities in California to use specific best practices to find, fix, and prevent leaks from the natural gas distribution system. Read More »

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California Back In The Saddle On Tackling Oil And Gas Pollution

9194136580_6eb9c79293_oAfter nearly ten months of waiting, California regulators at the state’s Air Resources Board stepped up this month in a big way to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from the state’s oil and gas industry.

For a state that prides itself on leading the charge to fight climate change, it was odd to see California had been lagging behind others when it came to addressing methane pollution. After all, methane is such a powerful short-term climate forcer that it’s responsible for a quarter of the warming we feel today. Now, by introducing long-awaited draft rules tackling the problem, the golden state has put itself back in the game.

A rule worthy of praise – with still room for improvement

Several provisions in the draft rule represent some of the strongest standards in the nation and have the potential to seriously advance the conversation on methane controls. Among them, the new rule proposes to cover both new and existing sources in oil and gas fields – something that should draw the federal government’s attention as it contemplates whether to include both types of categories in its proposed national rules. The rule also uses better science than prior proposals – evaluating methane’s impact based on its 20-year impact rather than a longer 100-year value. Read More »

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Infrared Camera Reveals Huge, Wafting Cloud of Methane over California’s Aliso Canyon

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 20-year greenhouse gas impact as the daily 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:

Aliso canyon 2 Read More »

Posted in Aliso Canyon, General, Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Data Reveals Climate Impacts of the Gigantic, Ongoing Gas Leak in California

Aliso CanyonLast 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 »

Posted in Aliso Canyon, General, Methane| Comments are closed
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