Quantcast

Porter Ranch 'Monster' Gas Leak Largest in U.S. History

Climate
Earthworks

The Aliso Canyon natural gas well blowout, which lasted for months and sickened scores of nearby residents, has been confirmed as the largest methane leak in history.


According to a peer-reviewed study published Thursday in the journal Science, the nearly four-month leak released roughly 100,000 tons of methane—effectively doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin. Southern California Gas Co. said it stopped the leak earlier this month. State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources engineers confirmed the leak was halted last week.

"Aliso Canyon will be, certainly, the biggest single [methane] source of the year," said co-lead study author Stephen Conley of UC Davis and Scientific Aviation. "It's definitely a monster."

Beyond that, he told Inside Climate News, "It's the biggest leak in U.S. history."

As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Conley piloted a single-engine plane rigged with methane and ethane sensors through the plume and analyzed it during 13 different research flights between Nov. 7 and Feb. 13, with the last readings taken just two days after the well was temporarily halted."

The newspaper continues:

With each flight, he would start very low—perhaps a couple hundred feet off the ground—fly through the plume, turn around and go back through at about 100 feet higher. He would do this until he reached the top of the plume, which could take anywhere from about 16 to 35 passes. Adding these slices up would give him the total emissions from the plume at that time. Even after the first flight, the methane readings alarmed him.
“It was 20 times larger than anything else we'd ever measured—it was just kind of a shock," said Conley, who recalled thinking, “What in the world was this big?"

With the leak's pollution equivalent to annual emissions from half a million cars, the disaster will substantially affect California's ability to meet greenhouse gas emission targets for the year, added Tom Ryerson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). "Our results show how failures of natural gas infrastructure can significantly impact greenhouse gas control efforts," he said.

In a blog post Thursday, Environmental Defense Fund chief scientist Steven Hamburg noted that Conley's results were "much higher than those provided by the gas company."

But that's not surprising, he continued, explaining that "accurately measuring these large sources is difficult using ground-based approaches like those used by the gas company to estimate the size of emissions from the facility."

Significantly, Hamburg wrote, the study comes days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft results of their updated accounting of methane emissions from the nation's oil and gas supply chain that shows that emissions are up 27 percent above the agency's early estimate.

"The more we know about methane emissions, the higher they get," he said. "The new findings show not just the massive scale of the oil and gas industry's methane problem, but also how critical it is to get the science right to both understand this source of a potent climate pollutant and reduce it. We know that cutting methane is one of the fastest, most cost effective ways to curb today's warming, and when combined with critical efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, substantial climate progress can be made."

The Aliso Canyon disaster has prompted calls from members of Congress for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to create the first federal standards for underground gas storage.

But with more than 300 such facilities across the U.S., the leak "is just the latest and most public example showing that we need to keep natural gas in the ground, not burn it," as Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill wrote last month.

Indeed, Sierra Club's Michael Brune declared in a January blog post: "As long as we rely on fossil fuels for energy—and much of the methane that's leaking from Aliso Canyon was intended for California's power plants—we will be fighting climate disruption with both hands tied behind our backs."

"Only when we achieve 100 percent clean energy will we truly be able to safeguard our health, our environment, and our climate," he said. "For the unlucky people in the path of the next fossil fuel disaster—and they could be anywhere—that day can't come soon enough."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A Starbucks barista prepares a drink at a Starbucks Coffee Shop location in New York. Ramin Talaie / Corbis via Getty Images

By Cathy Cassata

Are you getting your fill of Starbucks' new Almondmilk Honey Flat White, Oatmilk Honey Latte, and Coconutmilk Latte, but wondering just how healthy they are?

Read More
Radiation warning sign at the Union Carbide uranium mill in Rifle, Colorado, in 1972. Credit: National Archives / Environmental Protection Agency, public domain

By Sharon Kelly

Back in April last year, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency decided it was "not necessary" to update the rules for toxic waste from oil and gas wells. Torrents of wastewater flow daily from the nation's 1.5 million active oil and gas wells and the agency's own research has warned it may pose risks to the country's drinking water supplies.

Read More
Sponsored
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a "Friday for Future" youth demonstration in a street of Davos on Jan. 24, 2020 on the sideline of the World Economic Forum annual meeting. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pretended not to know who Greta Thunberg is, and then he told her to get a degree in economics before giving world leaders advice, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image of forest fire smoke hovering over North America on Aug. 15, 2018. NASA Earth Observatory

New York City isn't known for having the cleanest air, but researchers traced recent air pollution spikes there to two surprising sources — fires hundreds of miles away in Canada and the southeastern U.S.

Read More
If temperatures continue to rise, the world is at risk from global sea-level rise, which will flood many coastal cities as seen above in Bangladesh. NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty Images

The mounting climate emergency may spur the next global financial crisis and the world's central banks are woefully ill equipped to handle the consequences, according to a new book-length report by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as S&P Global reported. Located in Basel, Switzerland, the BIS is an umbrella organization for the world's central banks.

Read More