Ask Eartha: Aliso Canyon methane leak; it’s not just a California issue | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: Aliso Canyon methane leak; it’s not just a California issue

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

In late October 2015, a rupture was detected at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site located near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles, California. Now, about two months later, engineers have yet to contain the leak that has released 77,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere thus far.

Dear Eartha,

Recently, there has been a lot of worry about the methane leak in California. Does this leak have any negative implications for Colorado residents?

David

Silverthorne

Thank you for your question this week, David. The California methane leak that was first discovered on Oct. 23, 2015 is still making news headlines — and for good reason, too. This critical issue is not only having negative effects on the natural and human environment, but also poses some serious health threats to society as well.

Lets start with some background for those of you not familiar with this issue. In late October 2015, a rupture was detected at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site located near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles, California. Now, about two months later, engineers have yet to contain the leak that has released 77,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere thus far. The gas well, which belongs to the Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) is understood to be home to the largest natural gas leak to date. Although the leak has slowed since October, the November 2015 climate impact was equivalent to the daily emissions from 7 million cars.

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So, why is the leak taking so long to contain? The base of this particular well sits at 8,000 feet underground, making it difficult to even reach let alone plug the leaking gas. Thousands of nearby homes have been forced to evacuate due to the negative health impacts of the methane emissions. Many nearby residents have reported symptoms of nausea, dizziness, fatigue, irritation in the eyes and throat, heavy coughing and nose bleeding.

Now, to your question if this leak has negative implications for Colorado residents. The answer is yes. While the immediate health concerns that are impacting southern California residents will not directly affect Colorado citizens, the environmental consequences will unquestionably affect Colorado residents and the global community as a whole. Methane is a fast-acting climate pollutant that is approximately 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is certainly one of the main causes of global warming. The natural environment endures methane releases daily, (some natural sources such as wetlands and human induced leaks such as gas systems and raising livestock). However, this amount of methane gas exposed to the environment at one time is going to have some long-term consequences on localized air quality of the Porter Ranch neighborhood and for southern California citizens. Environmental researchers and advocates claim it is too soon to say what the full effects on the environment will be.

While this can be one of those doom-and-gloom historic events, it also comes with a positive outcome. The Environmental Protection Agency aims to issue much-needed rules to control methane emissions from the oil and gas industry later this year, with hopes that this rule will help eliminate 40,000 metric tons of methane by year 2025.

We must all remember that every small action we decide to take has some effect on the local and global community. For instance, making your home as energy efficient as possible will often translate into using less natural gas. Simple actions like getting a home energy audit to determine how your home is performing energy-wise, replacing old incandescent bulbs with LEDs, lowering your hot water heater temperature or sealing up those air leaks in your home can make a huge difference. If you can afford it, consider switching over to renewable energy, purchase shares in a community solar garden or buy wind energy credits to offset your electricity. By making sustainably-conscious decisions in our day-to-day lives, we can all work together to create a cleaner environment worldwide.

Update

The South Coast Air Quality Management district is suing Southern California Gas Co. over the massive natural gas leak. These local air regulators are seeking millions of dollars in penalties. The suit notes that this ongoing leak has created an ongoing public "nuisance." In addition, the suit addresses the impending environmental impacts that are expected to further enhance global warming. Accusations of negligence and knowingly violating the law are also in mention.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha ateartha@highcountryconservation.org.