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Prof. Ingraffea describes a methane disaster close to LA. A catalogue of poor regulation and risk assessment.

Gas stored in underground redundant oil well now leaking out of control.

Gas stored in underground redundant oil well now leaking out of control.

A disaster with a background of a failed well casing, a decision not to replace a defective shut off valve, decisions to continue to use out of date equipment. Now loss of methane on an unprecedented scale. Significant impact on global warming effects. This may be the first of many similar instances given the number of similar facilities of similar age. Poor regulations, poor risk management, poor assessment of priorities – safety/profit/risk/ with unchallenged belief in engineering and in mitigation measures.

USA leak rate of methane continues to be measured (not estimated) at around 7% despite their ‘tight regulatory control’. If anything above 3%, gas is considerably worse than coal as a source of energy with regard to Global Warming effect.

Key points from an interview with a leading expert on well casing leaks and the USA Oil and Gas industry.

Since October, a leaking underground natural gas storage facility near Los Angeles has released vast amounts of methane, its main ingredient, into the atmosphere, becoming one of the nation’s worst environmental accidents, as methane starts off 100 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Host Steve Curwood and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer at Cornell University discuss the blowout, including. Professor Ingraffea’s belief that this disaster may be a harbinger of what’s ahead for these aging storage facilities.

There has been a major blowout. That’s the oil and gas terminology of a well that was used, along with 100 others at that storage facility both to inject natural gas into a storage region about 9000 feet underground, and to extract the gas from that storage region so that it can go to customers. The blowout is the result of a failure of one of the – I’m using oil and gas terminology here – one of the strings of casing, steel pipe, that line that well. And when that casing failed, gas under very high pressure, roughly 2,700 pounds per inch or more, was able to escape and find its way directly into the rock formation surrounding the well, and it found a path through the rock formation, through cracks, faults, joints and is escaping not from the surface at the well head, but from the surface away from the well head, literally out in a field.
If you want to put it on a national basis, it’s about 15 percent of the hourly methane emissions in the entire oil and gas industry in the United States.

CURWOOD: There’s been a lot of talk about expanding natural gas production around the world to help address the threat of climate disruption, people saying the equivalence here compared say to coal means that natural gas is a better bet, a better bridge. Your assessment?

INGRAFFEA: That’s an absolutely incorrect, unscientific assessment. All of the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature indicates that if the leakage of methane, natural gas, into the atmosphere worldwide is greater than about three percent of the total production of natural gas in the world, it’s the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Because when you burn methane, you get carbon dioxide, which we know is primary greenhouse gas, but when you don’t burn it and leak it – as we’re seeing it in Aliso Canyon – it’s even worse, because methane is a much potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So all of thee scientific literature published in the last few years – and this question has only been addressed in the last few years – points to that roughly three percent cutoff. And again, all the peer-reviewed literature that’s been published in the last few years shows that in the US alone, the leak rate is greater than three percent. So, in the US we should not be converting coal-fired electricity generating plants to natural gas. We’re going in the wrong direction. We’re making climate change worse, not better, and of course, when we look across the world, we like to pride ourselves as being the best at everything, and of course, our leak rate is “low”, you can only surmise what the leak rate of methane would be in other countries where there is not such tight regulatory control. So, no, I do not in any way, means or form, ascribe to, believe, buy into the notion of natural gas being a bridge fuel or a down-ramp to a clean renewable energy future. It’s scientific nonsense. People in the industry know it. People in the scientific community know it. Unfortunately, our political leaders have to make decisions based on something other than science.

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