5 Things I Learned About Methane From The Aliso Canyon Blowout

BY ON September 7, 2016

Porter Ranch community near Aliso Canyon

This was written by Jennifer Moeller, Moms Clean Air Force Los Angeles Field Organizer:

Porter Ranch is a community full of green lush trees, hiking trails, equestrian paths, beautiful parks, wide streets with family friendly sidewalks, high ranking schools, and friendly neighbors in cul de sac streets. Its appeal made it an easy choice for my family to call this beautiful city home and establish roots in the community six years ago. Little did we know that in this seemingly idyllic town is the second largest natural gas storage facility in the West, located just a stone’s throw away from my family’s home. And little did we know that weeks after giving birth to my third child, the largest gas leak in modern history would take place in that storage facility.

I am just one of 15,000 Porter Ranch residents evacuated in light of the Aliso Canyon gas blow out that went uncapped for over four months. It has now been nine months since our family was forced to move to avoid the toxic gases emitted from the blowout, and in those nine months I’ve learned a lot. Here are just a few of those lessons:

  1. The oil and gas industry is a big business in California. The golden state is the 3rd largest oil producer and 2nd largest natural gas consumer in the U.S, and Los Angeles alone has over 5,000 oil and gas facilities, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. During the Aliso Canyon mega-gas leak, over 100,000 metric tons of methane gas was emitted in the air from October 23 through February 11, 2016, making it equivalent to burning over 917 million gallons of gasoline or wasting over $19 million in natural gas. Natural gas and petroleum systems are responsible for 33% of methane emissions in the U.S making it just as dangerous as carbon pollution for our climate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  1. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a powerful, short-lived greenhouse gas. In fact, methane is more than 100 times more potent at trapping energy than carbon dioxide (Tweet this) (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change. Methane has 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. One quarter of the climate disruption we’re experiencing today comes from methane pollution. 
  1. Oil and gas production releases co-pollutants that harm human health, especially impacting pregnant women, children and the elderly. Studies show that along with the release of methane, oil and gas production releases volatile organic compounds that contribute to ozone formation, which impact lung health and aggravate asthma. Additionally, toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens can be released, such as benzene and Finally, exposure to mercaptan, which is an additive to methane, has been reported to cause rashes, nosebleeds, headaches, migraines, nausea, vomiting, and skin irritation. These health impacts are especially troubling for our most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses. This has left thousands of families wondering what short and long-term health effects might ensue following the release of 100,000 metric tons of methane and other co-pollutants in the Porter Ranch community.
  1. The Aliso Canyon blowout released enough methane gas to impact our planet over the next 20 years, equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions of over eight million metric tons. Not too long after the blowout, several smaller leaks were identified. A major reason gas leaks occur are due to little or lack of consistent safety inspections of oil and gas storage facilities and infrastructure. “Methane may be hidden to the naked eye, but the impact of this ongoing accident on both the climate and the community is all too real,” said Fred Krupp, EDF President. Methane is a colorless, odorless gas, making it easier to go undetected, increasing the likelihood of more frequent leak occurrences.
  1. The Aliso Canyon methane leak exposed California’s over-reliance on natural gas provided by the single major operator, SoCalGas. The months that followed after the shutdown of the storage facility in February have been riddled with threats of blackouts due to potential gas shortages. Although no such blackouts have occurred, the Aliso Canyon storage facility closure was a kind of stress test that has pushed regulators and companies to develop other alternatives that move our energy system away from over-reliance on natural gas. A diversity of energy supplies, including greater investments in clean energy like wind, solar, and hydro-power, can move our energy system away from dependency on a single fuel source – and do so in a way that is more affordable, more reliable and cleaner than the current system.

What can we do?

As a parent impacted by the Aliso Canyon disaster, I have never been more conflicted with simultaneous emotions of sadness, anger, confusion and passion about the air we breathe and oil and gas development. It is time we hold the oil and gas companies accountable for putting the health and safety of our families and children at risk. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has proposed statewide standards to address methane pollution from oil and gas operations. The proposed rule includes more frequent monitoring and inspection of facilities and storage wells, automatic leak alarms, increased leak repair timelines and reporting. This will help keep our communities safer from harmful amounts of methane and VOC’s in the air. I would love to rest assured that SoCalGas and other natural gas companies are doing their part to ensure that devastating leaks don’t continue to happen and to finally prioritize the wellbeing of surrounding communities.

Let’s stand united in supporting and protecting our children’s right to cleaner air. (Tweet this)

Photo via NBCLA

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TOPICS: California, Fracking, Natural Gas