After a long and hard-fought legislative session, the dust is settling in California’s capitol. Many forward-looking clean energy bills sit on Gov. Brown’s desk, while others did not make it that far. It’s a time when legislative staff and advocates step back, breathe a sigh of relief, and take stock of what has been accomplished, what was lost along the way, and – most importantly – what remains to be done.
AB 1937 (Gomez) – a bill to avoid new natural gas plants in heavily burdened communities – and other key energy bills await the governor’s signature. Efforts to expand the entity that manages our electric grid, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), also continue. For the state to realize its vision of an economy powered by clean energy resources, it is crucial Gov. Brown sign these key energy bills and work closely with the legislature to expand CAISO.
Infrared footage reveals massive methane emissions from a gas storage facility in California's Aliso Canyon
Last fall, a massive leak from a natural gas storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon released nearly 100,000 tons of methane pollution into the atmosphere — the largest uncombusted release of this potent greenhouse gas in U.S. history, and seen by many as the industry’s worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill.
Facilities like Aliso Canyon inject gas pumped in from elsewhere and withdraw it when needed for electric production or heating. Aliso Canyon is the largest field of its kind west of the Mississippi River. There are around 400 such facilities across the U.S., about 14 in California. Until recently, regulatory oversight of these facilities has been uneven at best.
The exact cause of the Aliso Canyon incident is still being investigated, but all signs point to a problem in the aging, corroded casing of one of over a hundred individual wells at the sprawling site. Neither the utility’s maintenance programs nor the state’s lax enforcement of 1980s-era policies were sufficient to prevent this disaster. But now that’s about to change. Read More »
After passing the State Assembly Appropriations committee on Wednesday, a little known bill – SB 1441 – is headed for the assembly floor, which is slated to deliver big benefits for consumers and the environment. Not only will the bill create a strong market driver for utilities to operate tighter infrastructure and save California consumers tens of millions of dollars per year, the simple yet innovative approach it takes can chart a course for curbing methane leaks across the industry.
But first, a little context.
As recent as a couple years ago, non-hazardous natural gas leaks and venting were a commonly accepted occurrence across gas utility infrastructure. As long as a leak or a venting wasn’t likely to ignite, utilities could let it go – with many small persistent leaks lasting for decades. And though it sounds hard to believe, gas utilities continuously collect money from consumers through their gas bills to cover the amount of gas utilities lose, even though they also collect money from those same ratepayers to upgrade pipes. This market design works only to protect utilities – giving them money to fix leaks while also covering them if they don’t. Read More »
UPDATE: We asked California residents what clean air protections mean to them. Here's what they said.
Last month, lifelong Kern County, California resident Felipa Trujillo discussed the health impacts her community, located near oil and gas operations, has experienced. “It’s the most contaminated place in the country. I have witnessed many children getting cancer and asthma, and would like to leave a positive future for my grandkids.”
Trujillo was one of over twenty witnesses that appeared last month before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to testify on the need for strong statewide rules to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. During the meeting, Board members heard about the importance of the rules from many powerful witnesses, ranging from concerned mothers and fathers, impacted community members overburdened by poor air quality, nurses who consistently treat asthma patients, industry experts, and air district agents from throughout California.
Several Porter Ranch residents testified on what it was like to endure one of the worst methane leaks in U.S. history right in their backyard. “A month prior [to the Aliso Canyon leak being reported] my daughter Emma, 22 months at the time, began showing signs of asthma. Two months after the gas leak was reported, my daughters were diagnosed with acute exacerbation of asthma,” described Porter Ranch resident, Jaqueline Shroeder, calling on the Board to take swift action in approving strong rules. Read More »
As with other environmental policies, California leads the nation in encouraging electric vehicle (EV) adoption. The state has made huge strides in promoting cleaner cars, and opportunities remain to fully tap the benefits of this clean energy resource.
California as a model for national policy
In California, vehicles are responsible for almost 40 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, making transportation the state’s greatest sole contributor to climate pollution. The enormity of this problem was an impetus for California becoming the first state to adopt comprehensive vehicle emissions standards in 2009. Modeled largely after California’s regulations of the same name, the federal Clean Car Standards set national greenhouse-gas reduction goals for vehicles made between 2017 and 2025, and established incentives for manufacturers to produce technologically-advanced new cars.
As a major producer and consumer of oil and gas, California can set the bar for reducing methane leaks. And today, the Golden State showed it’s up to the challenge, making a critical change in proposed rules aimed at cutting methane pollution from oil and gas wells, pipelines and equipment of the like – now putting California firmly on the path to adopt the nation’s strongest methane controls anywhere.
This matters because methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production, is a damaging greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.
A big lesson-learned from the months-long, mega-gas leak at Aliso Canyon, and the similarly tragic eight month gas leak in Arvin, CA in 2014, is that oil and gas infrastructure can fail. While leaks the size of Aliso Canyon are rare, it’s an example of the risk we face daily as this infrastructure ages, and a sobering reminder of how important it is to have protections that ensure methane stays in the pipelines—and not in our air. Read More »