New findings by NASA scientists attributing a giant, invisible cloud of methane – nearly 5 times the size of Mexico City – over the southwestern U.S. to the region’s sprawling web of oil and gas facilities raise important new concerns not just on this side of the border, but for Mexico as well.
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Scientists estimate that methane contributes to about 25 percent of today’s warming. Cleaning up methane also reduces other pollutants: both ozone precursors that affect air quality and air toxics that erode human health.
The recent NASA paper linking the methane cloud to production, processing and distribution of oil and natural gas also notes that just a small portion of these sites, about 10%, were responsible for more than half the emissions. This is just the most recent example of a long list of scientific studies that have found that subset of sites or facilities disproportionately account for the majority of emissions. Scientists have called this subset of sites super-emitters. Read More
Also posted in General, Natural Gas Tagged Mexico
This morning, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment will hold a hearing on the EPA’s methane emissions regulations, during which I will offer some insights into how and why the oil and gas industry should reduce methane emissions.
This is the first hearing about the methane issue, and while the panel is tipped in favor of industry and we don’t expect testimony to cover all the facts, here are a couple things to look out for as the discussion unfolds.
Industry representatives who are not in favor of regulations will try to make the following points:
- They will say that the oil and gas supply chain isn’t the problem.
- They will say that the oil and gas industry is more than capable of self-regulating.
- They will say that regulation will cost a struggling industry too much, and will put American jobs at risk.
None of these statements is true.
What is true is the fact that methane poses a significant threat to our environment. Over the first 20 years following its release, methane is some 84 times more potent than CO2 in terms of the climate damage it does. While CO2 represents a continuing, long-term threat in the form of accumulated, long-lived and rising atmospheric concentrations, methane drives near-term climate effects. The result is that 25% of the global warming we are experiencing now is due to methane emissions. Read More
Also posted in Natural Gas
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
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
Also posted in Natural Gas
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?