Natural Gas Leak adding to Global Warming

“The polluting effect is the same as 2.2 million cows farting each day which is of course a lot of methane.” Automologist, MAC, draws o...

“The polluting effect is the same as 2.2 million cows farting each day which is of course a lot of methane.”

Automologist, MAC, draws our attention to the single largest source of global warming in California that comes from a small hole in the ground...but many have yet to hear about it.

In a somewhat pastoral setting in southern California, an ecological disaster is going on largely unnoticed except, that is, for the owners of the houses which just a few short months ago would have sold for millions of dollars, but are now worthless. The community in question is Porter Ranch, a suburb of Los Angeles where the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage reservoir, the largest in the USA, is spewing an estimated 65,000 lbs of methane gas into the atmosphere each hour, causing the residents to flee their homes.


The gas is spilling from a seven-inch hole in the ground that is connected to a 2,440-metre deep gas storage facility owned by the Southern California Gas Company. Strangely, to date it has not attracted the same sort of interest and condemnation that the likes of the Exxon Caldez or the BP Deep Water Horizon disasters did, despite the fact that this leak will have a greater impact on global warming than the other two combined.

The Federal Aviation Administration has made the area a no-fly-zone and the Governor of California has declared the area a disaster zone. To put the scale of the disaster into perspective, the leakage and the damage it is doing to the environment is equivalent to roughly the same that is caused by 4.5 million cars in one day or, if my calculations are correct, has the same warming effect as about 2.2 million cows farting each day, which is of course a lot of methane.

The cause of the leak is not known, but the Aliso Canyon is a 60-year-old storage facility with equipment that apparently has not been updated for decades, although it is supposed to meet regulatory standards. Initially, they tried to stop the leak by filing the well shaft with fluid, but the down-hole pressure pushed the fluid back and now they are going to attempt to drill a deviated relief well, similar to the type that eventually stopped the BP Deep Water Horizon blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago.

The process means that they will have to drill an additional hole that intersects with the existing leaking hole, thus diverting the flow of the gas into the new bore. Once this has been done, the original hole can be plugged. The gas company claims to be working as fast as possible but there is still no time frame for when the flow and, thus, pollution will be stopped.

The USA has some 400 sub-surface natural gas storage reservoirs fashioned from former mines and natural hydrocarbon reservoirs that, in total, store some 3.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is channeled to homes and business via an aging pipe system. Much of the system has been operated for decades with little in the way of effort or investment to update it or to inspect it. 

There are varying figures for how much methane may be leaking from the system, but one such estimate by Adam Brandt, a Stanford Professor, estimates that it may be as high as 100 billion cubic feet of methane each and every year. To put that into perspective, that is more gas than the US of A burns in one day and don’t forget that methane is far more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

image: theguardian.com

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