Quantcast
Fracking

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

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals

Beloved Bear That Recovered From Massive Wildfire Burns Found Shot Dead

Cinder, an orphaned bear cub that was severely burned but had remarkably survived after one of the worst recorded wildfires in Washington state history was found dead, wildlife officials recently confirmed to news outlets.

She was likely shot and killed in October 2017 by a hunter, according to the Methow Valley News and a Facebook post by the Idaho Black Bear Rehab, where the famous black bear was treated.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise voyage into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch document plastics and other marine debris. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a soupy mix of plastics and microplastics, now twice the size of Texas, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. Justin Hofman / Greenpeace

Teen Vogue Joined Greenpeace at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — Here’s What They Saw

By Perry Wheeler

Throughout this year, people all over the globe united to take on plastic pollution. Greenpeace supporters have asked their local supermarkets to phase out throwaway plastics, helped us reach 3 million signatures to companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unilever demanding they invest in real solutions and participated in beach cleanups and brand audits to name the worst corporate plastic polluters.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

Advocates Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Tell the Truth About Climate Change

By Jeremy Deaton

It has been a tough few months for climate change. In October, an international body of climate scientists declared humans have a little more than a decade to make the drastic changes needed to keep rising temperatures reasonably in check. In November, federal scientists released an equally grim assessment detailing the unprecedented floods, droughts and wildfires expected to hit the U.S. Then, this month, with the world ablaze, diplomats gathered in Poland to bicker over how much water each country should pour on their respective fires and, in some cases, whether scientists were exaggerating the size of the flames.

Keep reading... Show less
Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Dirty Scheme to Make Americans Buy More Gasoline

By Rhea Suh

It's not often that an industry chieftain brags to investors about picking the pockets of American families with help from the White House.

That's what happened, though, after Big Oil schemed with the Trump administration last summer to ensure higher gasoline consumption—to the tune of $16 billion a year—and more climate-disrupting carbon pollution from our cars, vans and pickup trucks.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
The planned Liberty Project is an artificial gravel island to allow oil drilling in the Arctic. Hilcorp / BOEM

Trump Administration Sued Over Controversial Arctic Drilling Project

Conservation groups are suing the Trump administration to halt construction of a controversial oil production facility in Alaska's Beaufort Sea, the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters.

Hilcorp Alaska received the green light from the Interior Department in October to build the Liberty Project, a nine-acre artificial drilling island and 5.6-mile underwater pipeline, which environmentalists warn could risk oil spills in the ecologically sensitive area, threaten Arctic communities and put local wildlife including polar bears at risk.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
AAron Ontiveroz / Denver Post / Getty Images

5 Everyday Products Contaminated With Plastic

However, the infiltration of plastics into our daily lives goes much deeper, making it hard to avoid this polluting material which will remain in our ecosystems for centuries to come.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Fracking waste from the Vaca Muerta shale basin in Argentina being dumped into an open air pit. Greenpeace

Indigenous Group Sues Exxon, Energy Majors Over Fracking Waste Contamination in Patagonia

A major indigenous group in the Argentine Patagonia is suing some of world's biggest oil and gas companies over illegal fracking waste dumps that put the "sensitive Patagonian environment," local wildlife and communities at risk, according to Greenpeace.

The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén filed a lawsuit against Exxon, French company Total and the Argentina-based Pan American Energy (which is partially owned by BP), AFP reported. Provincial authorities and a local fracking waste treatment company called Treater Neuquén S.A. were also named in the suit.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
A Yelp event at Rip's Malt Shop in Brooklyn, New York, which serves vegan comfort food, including plant-based proteins produced by Beyond Meat and Field Roast. Yelp Inc. / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Should Plant-Based Proteins be Called 'Meat'?

By Melissa Kravitz

Fried chicken, bacon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza aren't uncommon to see on vegan menus—or even the meat-free freezer section of your local supermarket—but should we be calling these mock meat dishes the same names? A new Missouri law doesn't think so. The state's law, which forbids "misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry," has led to a contentious ethical, legal and linguistic debate. Four organizations—Tofurky, the Good Food Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund—are now suing the state on the basis that not only is the law against the U.S. Constitution, but it favors meat producers for unfair market competition.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!