In late October of last year, Southern California Gas Company discovered a massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, an upscale community northwest of Los Angeles. To give you an idea of its scope, over 90,000 metric tons of methane are estimated to have spewed from the well since October 23.
Methane Is a Potent Greenhouse Gas
Natural gas is primarily made up of methane, an odorless and colorless gas that is exceptionally flammable. It’s also a highly potent greenhouse gas – 28 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (over a 100-year period), accelerating global warming.
You’ve probably heard the myth that natural gas is a bridge fuel with relatively low carbon emissions. The reality? When you look at the big picture, it’s more obvious than ever that natural gas is a dirty, dangerous fossil fuel. If it’s a bridge, it’s a bridge to nowhere.
It’s a Really Big Leak – with Really Big Consequences for the Climate
It’s a single gas well leak. It’s also currently the single greatest contributor to climate change in California. Some are calling it the climate equivalent of BP’s Deepwater Horizon. At its peak, 58,000 kilograms of methane was erupting from the well – every hour (that’s the equivalent GHG emissions off 200 homes’ electricity use – but over a year).
Once the leak is contained, Southern California Gas Company has been ordered to permanently close the well to blame for the disaster and pay for an independent study analyzing the possible health effects on the community. But this much is certain: the Porter Ranch natural gas leak will continue to fuel climate change long after the well it is shuttered due to the amount of methane it has released into the atmosphere. And it could take several more weeks – or even months – to contain.
© 2016 Environmental Defense Fund. Used by permission. The original material is available at http://bit.ly/1o3tehG.
It’s Impacting Public Health – and the Local Economy
Over 2,500 families have been relocated or left Porter Ranch, and some regulators are calling for Southern California Gas Company to pay for residents in surrounding communities to be relocated, too.
People near the site of the leak have reported nausea, bloody noses, headaches, and respiratory issues – but the long-term health effects of the leak aren’t known yet. With many residents leaving Porter Ranch and other Angelenos staying away, the local economy has suffered considerably as well. In fact, a group of business owners has filed a class action lawsuit against Southern California Gas Company to recoup lost revenue and damages. As one business owner, Reem Naaman, told the LA Times, “On an average weekday, business is down by about 60-percent. Now, we're worried about meeting our payroll and the monthly rent."
It’s Not an Isolated Incident
While a natural gas disaster of this scale is surely unprecedented, methane leaks are more common than you might think. Environmental Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach have mapped out leaks in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis. In Boston, where the infrastructure is older, EDF found that there was approximately one leak for every mile they drove. In Indianapolis, where the infrastructure is newer, readings indicated one leak per 200 miles driven.
Similarly, Aliso Canyon is one of hundreds of underground gas storage facilities in the US that get little regulatory oversight as their infrastructure ages.
And of course, this doesn’t take into account the methane that leaks during oil and gas production. Every year, the US oil and gas industry loses enough methane through leaks and intentional venting and flaring to meet the heating and cooking needs of millions of American homes, a troubling trend the US took the first step towards addressing last August by introducing new rules requiring the oil and gas industry to reduce emissions from new and modified sources of methane.
All these leaks are not only inefficient and wasting gas; they also contribute to climate change.
© 2016 Environmental Defense Fund. Used by permission. The original material is available at http://bit.ly/1UH7jaB
What You Can Do
Sign EDF’s petition to President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, supporting methane limits on existing oil and gas sources.
Then, to make an even bigger impact, join former US Vice President Al Gore for a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. We bring together renowned climate scientists and communicators to give you the tools to help solve climate change in your community. Learn more at the Climate Reality Training Corps website.
© 2015 Earthworks/Flickr cc by 2.0
Before You Go
At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.
But we can't do it without your help.
If you enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to see more, please consider making a generous gift to support our ongoing work to fight climate denial and support solutions.