By Joanna D. Underwood
The leaking storage facility at Porter Ranch released about 90,000 tons of natural gas into the air, sickening residents, forcing evacuations and prompting a state of emergency. Since natural gas is composed mostly of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the Porter Ranch leak singlehandedly increased California’s total CO2-equivalent emissions by 25 percent.
SoCal Gas finally has succeeded in stopping the leak with a temporary cap, and expects to have a permanent cap in place in the next few days. But we still have bigger and more persistent methane leakage problems than Porter Ranch to solve.
Methane leaks are a problem across the natural gas industry. Adding up large and small methane emissions from U.S. onshore natural gas wells, processing and storage facilities, plus 1.5 million miles of pipelines and compression stations, it totals well over 400,000 tons a year. Stopping these leaks and preventing new ones should be a top priority for the U.S. natural gas industry. It may not be easy, but it’s doable, and will go a long way toward realizing the potential air quality benefits and emissions reductions from displacing petroleum and coal with natural gas.
The EPA is expected to propose new regulations on methane leakage this summer. But even as the natural gas industry works on tamping down its methane leaks, there’s yet another, much larger, source of methane emissions we need to address: Organic waste.
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