Aging Gas Fields, Leaks are Common

The United States has 413 aging underground natural gas storage facilities similar to the one in California where a failed well has been spewing methane since October. (Energy Information Administration)

Public Meeting about SoCal Methane Leaks Surprising

Suzanne Potter / California News Service

Conservation groups say the massive ongoing methane leak in southern California is a problem that could easily repeat itself at any of the 413 aging natural-gas storage reservoirs around the country. Methane gas has been leaking since October from a 62-year-old well that failed at the Aliso Canyon facility, forcing residents and even an elementary school to relocate while repairs are made over the next two months.

Mark Brownstein, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said it’s a dramatic example of everyday problems seen in the oil and gas industry from leaks and equipment failures. “It adds up to about 7 million tons of methane being lost every year,” he said. “and to put that in context, that has the same impact on global warming over 20 years as 160 coal-fired power plants.”

Hundreds of people are expected to pack a hearing of the Southern California Air Quality Management District on Saturday in Granada Hills, where the board will vote on an agreement with So Cal Gas to partially shut down the gas field. State legislators have proposed several bills to require safety valves and additional inspections to help prevent leaks and other safety issues.

Brownstein said the federal government has a role to play as well. “The federal Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of proposing methane emission standards for new oil and gas facilities,” he said, “and what we need them to do is extend those requirements to existing facilities.”   So Cal Gas has said the well in question did not have a safety valve because the law did not require it.

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