Quantcast
Energy

Massive Methane Leaks From Texas Fracking Sites Even More Significant Than Infamous Porter Ranch Gas Leak

By Claire Bernish, AntiMedia

After the mammoth methane gas leak that spewed uncontrollably from a damaged well in California's Aliso Canyon was finally capped last week, residents of nearby Porter Ranch began trepidatiously returning to their homes. Lingering doubts over whether Southern California Gas Company will continue using the underground storage field have left many wondering if concerns for their safety are being considered at all—particularly considering the company has, so far, only been charged with misdemeanor violations.

A massive leak from a Texas fracking operation dwarfs the infamous methane leak in California's Aliso Canyon. Photo credit: Scott Towery / Flickr

All told, the Aliso Canyon leak thrust an estimated 96,000 metric tons of potent methane—not to mention benzene, nitrogen oxides and other noxious substances—into the atmosphere over a period of months. So vast was the impact of the leak, it has been likened in impactful scope to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

California, however, isn't the only state dealing with mammoth methane leakage.

Texas is dealing with a comparable disaster that has been overlooked by officials and the media, in part, because the state's methane emanates from a powerful industry's infrastructure. According to the Texas Observer's Naveena Sadasivam:

“Every hour, natural gas facilities in North Texas' Barnett Shale region emit thousands of tons of methane—a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and a slate of noxious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and benzene.

“The Aliso Canyon leak was big. The Barnett leaks, combined, are even bigger."

At its peak, the SoCal Gas leak emitted 58,000 kilograms of methane per hour. By comparison, researchers with universities in Colorado and Michigan, partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, estimate around 60,000 kilograms are spewed every hour by more than 25,000 natural gas wells in operation on the Barnett Shale—with the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex at the center. This amounts to around 544,000 tons of methane every year. But contrary to the magnitude of the Aliso Canyon event, emissions caused by oil and gas extraction from the Barnett Shale—and a second large formation, Eagle Ford Shale—won't cease as long as hydraulic fracturing remains the boon it has been to the fossil fuel industry.

An eight-month long study of Eagle Ford by the Center for Public Integrity, Weather Channel and InsideClimate News found “a system that does more to protect the industry than the public."

Due to a scarcity of air quality monitoring stations, with only five permanent monitors to cover Eagle Ford's nearly 20,000 square miles, state officials simply don't know the extent of pollutants in the air. Many facilities are permitted to police themselves and aren't required to submit those findings. Not that regulators would have an easy time enforcing a reporting mandate, as the “Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn't even know some of these facilities exist."

David Sterling, chair of the University of North Texas Health Science Center, told InsideClimate News, “As much as I would like to believe that industry can police itself, history has shown that that has not worked without sufficient oversight." With TCEQ's budget having fallen 34 percent between 2010 and 2014, it's virtually impossible to imagine such oversight increasing in the future.

Read page 1

There is a dearth of accountability for lawbreakers in Texas' oil and gas industry. As the study discovered, in a period of nearly two years beginning in January 2010, 284 complaints against the industry—and “164 documented violations"—led to just two non-punitive fines, the larger of which was a mere $14,250.

Though alarming, that gap in accountability isn't a surprise.

“Texas officials tasked with overseeing the industry are often its strongest defenders," stated the study. “The Texas Railroad Commission, which issues drilling permits and regulates all other aspects of oil and gas production, is controlled by three elected commissioners who accepted more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 election cycle, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics."

Texas lawmakers are often personally tied to the industry, as “nearly one in four state legislators or his or her spouse, has a financial interest in at least one energy company active in the Eagle Ford," according to an analysis of personal financial forms by CPI cited by the study.

Residents located in the two Texas shale production regions experience many similar symptoms to those in Porter Ranch near Aliso Canyon, such as nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and various respiratory ailments. Those symptoms could be due to any number of pollutants and toxins. As the study described:

“Chemicals released during oil and gas extraction include hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas found in abundance in Eagle Ford wells; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, a known carcinogen; sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which irritate the lungs; and other harmful substances such as carbon monoxide and carbon disulfide. VOCs also mix with nitrogen oxides emitted from field equipment to create ozone, a major respiratory hazard.

“Studies show that, depending on the concentration and length of exposure, these chemicals can cause a range of ailments, from minor headaches to neurological damage and cancer. People in the Eagle Ford face an added risk: hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S or sour gas, a naturally occurring component of crude oil and natural gas that lurks underground."

Texas' shale facilities are responsible for 8 percent of the nation's methane emissions, already; but the combination of faulty equipment and lack of monitoring sites mean occasional large methane releases from wells—called “super-emitters"—won't necessarily be noticed immediately.

“If one well was a super-emitter the day we measured them, it could change the next day," explained Daniel Zavala-Araiza, lead researcher of a 2015 Barnett Shale methane study by the Environmental Defense Fund, in the Observer. “It's not just about finding a handful of sites. You need to be looking continuously to keep finding the ones that are malfunctioning … If you don't have frequent monitoring, there's no way you're going to know when one of these super-emitters begins spewing."

In fact, a recent study by Harvard University points the finger at the U.S. as the cause of an enormous spike in global methane emissions over the past decade, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of all “human-caused atmospheric emissions."

“I believe the U.S. probably is responsible for this much of an increase in global methane emissions," said Roger Howarth, a methane researcher at Cornell University, who is unaffiliated with the Harvard study, the Guardian reported. “And, the increase almost certainly must be coming from the fracking and from the increase in use of natural gas."

Texas residents unfortunate enough to find their homes positioned near oil or gas facilities aren't left with much recourse to combat the state's infamous industry. Shale gas production more than doubled between 2009 and 2014, though it has slowed slightly with the recent glut. As InsideClimate News reported, state Representative Harvey Hilderbran tellingly asserted to a media panel in 2014:

“I believe if you're anti-oil and gas, you're anti-Texas."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Stanford Scientist Finds People Living Near Shallow Fracking Wells at Risk of Drinking Water Contaminated With Methane

Koch Brothers Plotting Multimillion Dollar War on Electric Vehicles

Why Would the New York Post Plug Climate Denier Profiteers?

Bill McKibben: It's Not Just What Exxon Did, It's What It's Doing

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
iStock

The Hazards of EIA Energy Forecasts

Accepting the conclusions of the latest energy outlook, released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) means also accepting certain climate catastrophe.

As we have noted before, the EIA has made a routine out of releasing unrealistic, distorted and dangerous outlooks on the future of global energy demand. These projections should come with a warning label.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Sci-Fi Novel Envisions Corporatocracy in a Climate-Changed Future

By Nexus Media, with Tal M. Klein

In Tal Klein's new novel, The Punch Escrow, humans have successfully tackled disease and climate change, but powerful corporations control everything. The book has created a stir among sci-fi fans, and there are already plans to adapt it to the big screen. In this conversation with Nexus Media, Klein shares his perspective on science, technology and the future of our species. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority Facebook

World's Largest Solar Park to Also Host World's Tallest Solar Tower

The Dubai government has awarded a $3.9 billion contract to construct the 700-megawatt fourth and final phase of the world-record-holding Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

The project also includes the construction of an 850-foot-tall solar tower that receives focused sunlight, the world's tallest such structure once complete.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Nike

Nike's New 'Flyleather' Sneakers Are Made From 50% Recycled Leather

By Daniele Selby

Nike's new sneakers are pretty fly—and we're not just talking about how they look. The company's new Flyleather sneakers look good, feel great and are less damaging to the environment.

In 2012, Nike introduced its Flyknit technology, which recycled plastic and other material into lightweight shoes, according to GQ. With Flyknit shoes, Nike aimed to make sustainable fashion functional and trendy, and it has applied that same mentality to its new Flyleather shoes, which it unveiled this week to coincide with Climate Week.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of 15 threatened wild places profiled in "Too Wild To Drill." Florian Schulz

These 15 Unique Wild Lands Are Threatened By Extractive Industries

A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
USGS Science Explorer page has zero search results for "effects of climate change." It previously had 2,825 items, according to climate scientist Peter Gleick.

'No Results Found': Thousands of Climate Science Links Purged From USGS Online Database

Yet another U.S. agency has deleted climate change information from its website. This time, the U.S. Geological Survey's "Science Explorer" website—a tax-payer funded online database for the public to browse USGS science programs and activities—has been purged of thousands of formerly searchable climate science links.

The startling discovery was made by Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and member of the U.S. National Academy of Science.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
New York City lights up green to stand for the Paris agreement. C40 Cities

These Companies Support Climate Action, So Why Are They Funding Opposition to It?

By Rachel Leven and Jamie Smith Hopkins

The international climate-fighting pact would create jobs, Google said. Leaving the deal known as the Paris accord would be bad for business, top executives from Bank of America and Coca-Cola argued. When President Donald Trump committed to yanking the U.S. out anyway, PayPal and Western Union countered "We are still in."

These corporate titans and at least 22 others were among those who sought to preserve the U.S.' role in the landmark Paris agreement ratified by about 160 countries. So why exactly would these 27 business powerhouses also support a GOP group that's fought to undo a key Obama-era domestic climate initiative?

Keep reading... Show less

How Monsanto Manufactured 'Outrage' at Chemical Cancer Classification It Expected

By Carey Gillam

Three years ago this month Monsanto executives realized they had a big problem on their hands.

It was September 2014 and the company's top-selling chemical, the weed killer called glyphosate that is the foundation for Monsanto's branded Roundup products, had been selected as one among a handful of pesticides to undergo scrutiny by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto had spent decades fending off concerns about the safety of glyphosate and decrying scientific research indicating the chemical might cause cancer or other diseases. And even though the IARC review was still months away, Monsanto's own scientists knew what the outcome would likely be—and they knew it wouldn't be good.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox