California Gas Leak Exposes Growing Natural-Gas Risks

As America shifts toward natural gas for energy, decaying pipelines and storage facilities are at risk of leaks and explosions.

Since it was first detected on October 23, 2015, the natural-gas leak at Aliso Canyon, a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility in the bucolic Porter Ranch community, has spewed more than 86,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. On Monday So Cal Gas said it has abandoned a plan to capture and burn off the gas, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That means a solution to the disaster is still weeks, if not months, off. (This long feature on explores in detail the background of the leak.)

A woman holds a sign while attending a public hearing on January 16 regarding the massive natural-gas leak near Porter Ranch, California.

The Porter Ranch accident highlights a growing problem in the U.S.: as natural gas replaces coal as a key energy source, the dangers of leaks and explosions from aging pipelines and storage facilities is rising. Last year Pacific Gas & Electric was hit with a record $1.6 billion fine for a gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed nine people in 2010. Decaying pipelines under the streets of New York City represent a “ticking time bomb,” according to a report from TV station CBS2. Local gas distribution companies are expected to spend billions to upgrade aging infrastructure in the coming years, according to Fitch Ratings. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new regulations to limit methane emissions at each stage of the oil and gas production and transportation system—but those rules will cover only new installations, not existing facilities.

(source: LA Times, San Jose Mercury News, EDF)

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