Quantcast
Fracking
Earthworks

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

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."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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