Quantcast

Porter Ranch Is Only Tip of the Iceberg Exposing Catastrophic Impacts of Natural Gas

Fracking

Natural gas is not cleaner than coal.

But thanks to boatloads of advertising and campaign contributions, oil and gas lobbyists has convinced many politicians, including President Obama, that replacing coal with natural gas is a viable way to stave off catastrophic climate change.


But it isn't. The now-famous Aliso Canyon methane leak, its impacts on thousands of residents of near Porter Ranch and its damage to the climate is just the latest and most public example showing that we need to keep natural gas in the ground, not burn it.

The first direct overhead photo of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad since the leak began. Photo credit: Earthworks / Pete Dronkers

The oil and gas industry's argument for natural gas boils down to this: to generate electricity, burning natural gas is cleaner than burning coal. While that is true, it's only part of the story. But it's the only part industry tells because it's the only part they like. Unfortunately for all of us, though, natural gas is far more than just a replacement utility-scale fossil fuel.

SoCalGas, a division of Sempra Energy, provides natural gas not just to power plants, but to 21 million customers in Southern California. “Now you're cooking with gas," is the Bob Hope adage from the 30's and 40's as natural gas began to be piped into homes for heating and cooking. To look at it another way, the leaking Aliso Canyon gas storage facility supplies millions of kitchen ovens with the blue flame prized by home chefs.

But to see the true cost of natural gas we need to look beyond the burner.

The environmental and community health damage caused by fracked natural gas extraction is well known at this point, and science is confirming its danger with every new peer-reviewed study.

Californians' attention turned to the problem of aging pipeline infrastructure in our cities, when a suburban neighborhood in the town of San Bruno was destroyed in a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion. Then Nathan Phillips at Boston University used gas analyzers to develop 3-D “methane maps" in urban environments, estimating 7-15 percent of global manmade methane pollution could be coming from pipes in cities bringing natural gas to consumers.

Until Aliso Canyon, we weren't looking at the step in the supply chain before urban pipelines—storage facilities. Refined natural gas has been stored in former oil wells at Aliso Canyon since the 70's; when the oil wells were emptied, they were repurposed for storage of natural gas. The volcano of methane that is now California's largest single source of greenhouse gases is coming from a broken well that was last inspected in 1976. The LA Weekly reports that the well's safety valve was inexplicably removed in 1979. Among the hundred at the facility, other wells also lack safety valves.

Aliso Canyon was a disaster waiting to happen. The facility was old, poorly managed and experienced abysmal oversight. Gov. Jerry Brown finally declared a state of emergency last week, directing state agencies to take unprecedented action on underground gas storage in the Golden State.

There are more than 300 similar facilities around the country. We need to to make sure that we don't have other climate and health disasters waiting to happen in California and around the U.S. We need:

  • An emergency statewide effort to shut down facilities that lack basic safety equipment, including Aliso Canyon. Gas storage wells that lack shut off valves should be taken offline before other Porter Ranches happen.
  • Increased oversight and management of these facilities.
  • Support for residents affected by pollution, including health care as well as financial compensation.
  • A rapid transition for consumers away from gas. The Solutions Project has mapped out a 100 percent fossil fuel free plan by 2050. This transition would protect communities from underground storage risks, gas line leakage and explosions like the one in San Bruno.

We've already wrapped our heads around a rooftop solar revolution and what it might mean for distributed energy generation rather than big boxes of fossil fuels. Now it's time to start planning to get rid of the blue flames on our stovetops, water heaters and furnaces. There is an electric or solar electric alternative to every natural gas appliance. We can't just cut natural gas's electric cord; we have to cut the pipeline too.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Aerial assessment of Hurricane Sandy damage in Connecticut. Dannel Malloy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Extreme weather events supercharged by climate change in 2012 led to nearly 1,000 more deaths, more than 20,000 additional hospitalizations, and cost the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion, a new report finds.

Read More Show Less
Giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, California. lucky-photographer / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A Bay Area conservation group struck a deal to buy and to protect the world's largest remaining privately owned sequoia forest for $15.6 million. Now it needs to raise the money, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This aerial view shows the Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium, one of the venues for 2019 Rugby World Cup. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup starts Friday in Japan where Pacific Island teams from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will face off against teams from industrialized nations. However, a new report from a UK-based NGO says that when the teams gather for the opening ceremony on Friday night and listen to the theme song "World In Union," the hypocrisy of climate injustice will take center stage.

Read More Show Less
Vera_Petrunina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Wudan Yan

In June, New York Times journalist Andy Newman wrote an article titled, "If seeing the world helps ruin it, should we stay home?" In it, he raised the question of whether or not travel by plane, boat, or car—all of which contribute to climate change, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers—might pose a moral challenge to the responsibility that each of us has to not exacerbate the already catastrophic consequences of climate change. The premise of Newman's piece rests on his assertion that traveling "somewhere far away… is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change."

Read More Show Less
Volunteer caucasian woman giving grain to starving African children. Bartosz Hadyniak / E+ / Getty Images

By Frances Moore Lappé

Food will be scarce, expensive and less nutritious," CNN warns us in its coverage of the UN's new "Climate Change and Land" report. The New York Times announces that "Climate Change Threatens the World's Food Supply."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
British Airways 757. Jon Osborne / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Adam Vaughan

Two-thirds of people in the UK think the amount people fly should be reined in to tackle climate change, polling has found.

Read More Show Less
Climate Week NYC

On Monday, Sept. 23, the Climate Group will kick off its 11th annual Climate Week NYC, a chance for governments, non-profits, businesses, communities and individuals to share possible solutions to the climate crisis while world leaders gather in the city for the UN Climate Action Summit.

Read More Show Less

By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans

Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

Read More Show Less