In California, methane gas — over 78,000 metric tons of it — is escaping into the air with horrific consequences on the environment and public health. The good news (if you can call it that) is that the country is now becoming more aware of the dangers of natural gas development and the side effects of methane “leaks” and storage. The amount of methane calculated to have escaped is the equal of burning in excess of 737 million gallons of gasoline.
There is no expectation of the leak being capped for two months. What began on October 24th is likely to remain an issue until March. The daily emissions are equal to that of seven million cars. The escaping gas cannot be seen except through infrared technology.
Democrats from the Energy and Commerce Committee have written to both the Department of Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, and EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, requesting a briefing on actions being taken to address the disaster.
I contacted the office of Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) who lives in Porter Ranch and whose residents make up part of his district. Sherman vigorously pressed Governor Brown to declare a state of emergency for the affected locale.
Reports from Porter Ranch are reminiscent of the BP oil spill, have shown angry residents from the area — sick with nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and headaches. Already, 2,000 families have been forced to relocate, with an additional 3,000 more needing to evacuate.
Sherman appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show, where Maddow referenced the crisis as “the biggest gas leak in the history of this country.” Reporting on the story that night, Maddow covered the need to relocate staff and school children from Porter Ranch as her lead in to the Sherman interview.
Maddow ran down the Los Angeles Times story about the installation of screens to protect residents and their property from a “goo-like mist” that had been falling in the vicinity of the gas leak. Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) claimed, “The residue…does not pose a health risk.”
With no definitive resolution until March, the amount of methane released, explained Maddow, “is enough to fill the Empire State Building every single day.”
Sherman spoke to several of the technical aspects of the situation, from pipe dating back to the 1950s to sub-surface safety valves. He noted that the affected area is “one of the windiest in Southern California, so the effect is different every day.” He pointed out that residents with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, are experiencing the ramifications of the leak at a greater magnitude.
Globally, SoCal’s storage facility is one of the biggest of its kind. Sherman has challenged the company’s refusal to withdraw the natural gas from the storage reservoir with utmost immediacy. Rather, as Sherman put it, they are continuing to look at the remaining stored gas as “an asset” rather than “a toxin” to the community. Plainly put, they are determining their withdrawal of the stored gas based on rate of sale. Sherman said pointedly, “They need to empty to the bucket.”
Sherman has tried to push both SoCal and Gov. Brown to support emptying the reservoir based on the health emergency necessity — so far without luck. On the record as supporting a natural gas storage protocol and integrity system nationwide, Sherman underscored, “We’ve got no reasonable regulations for natural gas storage.”
In the course of his conversation with Maddow about the relocation of the school children, Sherman underscored, “Kid’s lungs matter.”
Everyone’s lungs matter. That’s why we must tell EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that we need action now to stop one this threat to our family’s health and our planet’s.