By Luis Bourgeois, Public Policy Intern, Oil and Gas Program
Until recently Californians were in the dark when it came to the state’s natural gas distribution system and its pollution. But all that is changing now; for the first time ever, consistent data on the annual methane emissions from gas utilities is available for all to see. And what does this data show? California has room to reduce leaks and tighten the integrity of its gas delivery system.
A move toward better transparency
California’s recent step to boost disclosure of the amount of emissions leaked and number of repairs made to gas pipelines and other equipment is the product of Senate Bill 1371 (Leno) passed in 2014, and subsequent regulations from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). SB 1371 took this approach because methane, the main component of natural gas, is a powerful climate pollutant that puts our environment and communities at risk with a leak-prone system across the natural gas transmission, distribution and storage sectors. Read More
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Look up in New Mexico and on most days you’ll see the unmistakable blue skies that make the Southwest so unique.
But there’s also something hovering over the Four Corners that a naked eye can’t detect: A 2,500-square mile cloud of methane, the highest concentration of the heat-trapping pollution anywhere in the United States. The Delaware-sized hot-spot was first reported in a study two years ago.
At the time, researchers were confident the cloud was associated with fossil fuels, but unsure of the precise sources. Was it occurring naturally from the region’s coal beds or coming from a leaky oil and gas industry?
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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
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
The United States produces approximately 33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year. A majority of this gas is converted to electricity at power plants or used for industrial purposes, but about one third ends up making the journey from the well head, through underground pipelines, and into our homes and businesses. How much of this gas gets lost along the way—whether it’s through leaky equipment or other factors—is important because of the damaging climate impacts of methane pollution. And a new study published this week in Environmental Science and Technology is helping to expand our understanding of methane emissions in urban environments.
The study—a multi-year collaboration led by Washington State University and included researchers from Aerodyne, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, GHD, Purdue and Pennsylvania State universities—used a variety of techniques to measure the rate at which methane is lost to the atmosphere in Indianapolis, Indiana.
It’s unfortunate that a partisan group of Congressional representatives recently tried to turn back the clock on new rules from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that can protect taxpayers and local communities from the needless waste of our natural gas resources and methane pollution.
It was a disappointing move, considering that a bipartisan group of elected officials came together to defend the BLM’s natural gas waste rule during a budget fight on the House floor in July.
Some members of Congress are really good at expressing their opinions. However, in this case the facts clearly show that efforts to cut waste and protect our air are necessary and warranted.
Fact: Despite some creative data cherry-picking to spin a different story, the data is clear that methane emissions from oil and gas operations have grown significantly in the past decade (up 8% since 2005). Read More
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