California Methane Leak Boosts State Emissions By 25 Percent

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Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers
 or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration.

As world leaders meet in Le Bourget, France for a global climate accord, California enjoyed its usual prominent role as the only state in the United States to have enacted a rigorous de-carbonization regime. That regime will leave few aspects of the state economy untouched.

But the limits of California’s wide ranging efforts were recently laid bare by a massive leak of the potent climate changing gas methane that officials now say will take three months to halt.

The methane is pouring out of a damaged well, part of a large underground gas storage site serving southern California.

The California Air Resources Board estimates the methane is gushing so fast  – at more than 44,000 kilograms per hour – that it is boosting the entire state’s methane emissions by 25 percent.

Methane has been called carbon dioxide’s cousin on steroids. It is 70 to 86 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, over its brief 20 year sojourn in Earth’s atmosphere.

The escape comes at a time when regulators in a wide range of places, from the state of Colorado to the United Nations, are focused on reducing methane. The principal sources are agriculture, landfills and the oil and gas industry.

The southern California site, located about 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Susana Mountains, is complex. Southern California Gas Co., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has 115 gas storage wells there. It gathers in gas in the summer and distributes it in the winter from a sandstone formation that was tapped for oil a century ago. Other companies also operate wells for production in different strata at the same site.

Gas is similarly stored in underground rock across the United States.

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration.

Company officials said the gas flow stems from a damaged 7-inch diameter well casing. Pressurized gas is flowing back up the bore along the outside of the casing, Melissa Bailey of Southern California Gas said.

The state has deployed an array of equipment to keep track of the climate-sabotaging emissions: The path of a satellite has been altered to make sure it captures the plume streaming out of Aliso Canyon, Dave Clegern with the Air Resources Board said. The firm Scientific Aviation is taking measurements from the air. And the California Air Resources Board and Los Angeles air authorities have deployed new monitors to supplement an existing statewide network of methane detectors.

Last June satellite photos taken by NASA indicated a methane plume over the oil and gas rich San Juan Basin in northern New Mexico. Experts were surprised when it looked as though that region alone might be responsible for 10 percent of all oil and gas methane leaks in the country. That reckoning may now change as more is learned about the Southern California Gas leak.

This story comes to us from reporter Ingrid Lobet with inewsource. inewsource is an independent non-profit focused on investigative, data-driven journalism.

  • Stephen Harris

    If the California Regulators were not so afraid of their jobs, due to hyper-fear generated by a totalitarian Dimkrat party and a Governor that is on his final moonshot trying to redistribute wealth and come up with some magical energy source that does not emit anything, they would realize, like the oil and gas men and women in North Dakota that do not have access to pipelines yet, flaring reduces 90 – 94% of the methane concentration into the atmosphere. The South Coast Air Quality District is well aware of such reduction and has mandated oil wells that produce natural gas to either go into a pipeline, or if not feasible, erect a portable self-contained flare system for two decades now…similar to what the City of Huntington Beach (aka Surf City) paid for by their own oil wells in the City’s Administration Building’s parking lot. So the alarmists would have only 10% of the complaint they have today. I suspect that would let a lot of ignorant hot air out of their balloons.

  • papertiger0

    70 to 86 times the global warming potential of co2? That’s problematic because THERE IS NO DEFINITION OF WHAT THE GLOBAL WARMING POTENTIAL OF CO2 IS. That’s the whole point of trying to predict what the climate sensitivity of a doubling of co2 is going to be.
    The IPCC use to claim the gwp of co2 as likely between 2.5 and 4.5 degrees C.
    But recently they were forced by circumstances to downgrade their estimate to between 2.0 and 4.5 – the fact is though they have no idea what the gwp of co2 is.
    Since the IPCC has only the vaguest of idea of what that number should be it makes descriptions, such as yours above, of methane as a “dangerous” substance 70 to 86 times co2 borderline criminal, but mostly empty rhetoric.