methane leaks

News Not to Miss: Oil Train Spill, China Petrochemical Deal, Methane Leaks

Read time: 4 mins
Oil train cars

It's hard to keep up with the flood of news these days. Here's your weekly round-up of news not to miss from DeSmog.

Justin Mikulka has been on the oil train beat for years. He's documented how the oil boom and pipeline bottleneck in the Bakken Shale has led to more, longer, and heavier trains shuttling oil across North America and how various factors also have led to another type of boom: the literal “boom” of exploding oil trains. (In fact, train operators have given them the nickname “bomb trains.”)

This week, Mikulka writes about the latest oil train incident, this time involving a BNSF train carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, across northwestern Iowa.

Troubled Gas Firm Drops Request to Dodge Drilling Limits Near New Mexico's Methane Hot Spot

Read time: 10 mins
New Mexico resident Don Schreiber on his ranch next to oil and gas equipment

Today, one of New Mexico's largest oil and gas producers, Hilcorp Energy, dropped its recently filed request to increase the number of wells it can drill or frack in the San Juan Basin, already home to tens of thousands of gas wells. Hilcorp's proposal also would have shut the public out of the decision-making process by establishing an “administrative approval” process.

Back in 2014, this corner of northern New Mexico made international headlines when NASA researchers discovered a persistent methane plume the size of Delaware. Two years later, they pinned one of the main sources of this methane “hot spot” to natural gas wells, pipelines, storage tanks, and processing plants in the San Juan Basin. A second peer-reviewed study last year confirmed those findings.

Ex-NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg: 'Clean Coal' Is BS, but Feds Should 'Stay Out of the Way' on Climate

Read time: 5 mins
Center, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg

At a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) summit in New York City this week, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was blunt about the prospects for so-called “clean coal.”

“Carbon capture is total bullshit,” he told the crowd of several hundred top energy industry executives and financiers. “This is a figment of imagination.”

'Biggest Oil Find' of 2016 Puts Crown Jewel Texas Oasis in Crosshairs for Fracking

Read time: 13 mins
Water birds land on Balmorhea Lake in West Texas

REEVES COUNTY, TEXAS — Travelers crossing the long stretch of arid desert spanning West Texas might stumble across an extraordinarily improbable sight — a tiny teeming wetlands, a sliver of marsh that seems like it should sit by the ocean but actually lays over 450 miles from the nearest coast.

This cienega, or desert-wetlands (an ecosystem so unusual that its name sounds like a contradiction), lies instead near a massive swimming pool and lake, all fed by clusters of freshwater springs that include the deepest underwater cave ever discovered in the U.S., stretching far under the desert's dry sands.

Famous as “the oasis of West Texas,” Balmorhea State Park now hosts over 150,000 visitors a year, drawn by the chance to swim in the cool waters of the park's crystal-blue pool, which is fed by up to 28 million gallons of water a day flowing from the San Solomon springs. The pool's steady 72 to 76 degree Fahrenheit temperatures make the waters temptingly cool in the hot Texas summer and surprisingly warm in the winter, locals say — part of the reason it's been called “the crown jewel of the desert.”

Planned Gas Pipeline Construction on East Coast Puts Climate at Risk: Report

Read time: 7 mins

Nineteen now-pending pipeline projects, if constructed, would let enough natural gas flow out of the Appalachian basin to cause the entire US to blow through its climate pledges, ushering the world into more than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, a newly released report by Oil Change International concludes.

Even if the Environmental Protection Agency's recently-announced methane rules manage to slash leaks from new natural gas infrastructure as planned, building those pipelines would be catastrophic for the climate, the researchers warn.

“All together, these 19 pending pipeline projects would enable 116 trillion cubic feet of additional gas production by 2050,” the report, entitled A Bridge Too Far: How Appalachian Basin Gas Pipeline Expansion Will Undermine U.S. Climate Goals, says. “The currently planned gas production expansion in Appalachia would make meeting U.S. climate goals impossible, even if the [Obama] Administration’s newly proposed methane rules are successful in reducing methane leakage by 45 percent.”

Why do these pipelines matter so much?

Documents: How IOGCC Created Loophole Ushering in Frackquakes and Allowing Methane Leakage

Read time: 16 mins

Earthquakes caused by injection of shale oil and gas production wastes — and methane leakage from shale gas pipelines — have proliferated in recent years, with both issues well-studied in the scientific literature and grabbing headlines in newspapers nationwide.

Lesser-mentioned, though perhaps at the root of both problems, is a key exemption won by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact (IOGCC) via a concerted lobbying effort in the 1980's. That is, classifying oil and gas wastes as something other than “hazardous” or “solid wastes” under Subtitles C and D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), thus exempting the industry from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement. 

Aging Infrastructure, Fracking Eyed in Massive Porter Ranch, California Methane Leak

Read time: 7 mins

It's been nearly three months since the Aliso Canyon gas leak in the upscale community of Porter Ranch, CA was first discovered — and, even as that gas continues to spew into the atmosphere, experts are calling attention to the risks that aging fossil fuel infrastructure poses nationwide.

Events of this size are rare, but major leakage across the oil and gas supply chain is not,” Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Oil & Gas Program Tim O’Connor said in a statement last month. “There are plenty of mini-Aliso Canyons that add up to a big climate problem — not just in California, but across the country.”

“All of the Above” or “Action now?”: Obama’s Natural Gas Contradiction

Read time: 7 mins

At a talk in Vermont last week, the nation's top energy official offered up his thoughts on a problem the White House has said calls for “urgent action”: climate change.

“We need to mitigate the effects of climate change and need to adapt at the same time,” said Dr. Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy, as he described the findings of a White House report issued earlier this month outlining the dangers of global warming and the impacts already felt nationwide.

But Moniz's talk also highlighted a fundamental flaw in the approach that President Obama has taken to energy and the environment.

The president has begun sounding alarm bells about the hazards and costs of worsening climate disruption. At the same time, he has aggressively promoted the nation's ongoing shale gas rush. And yet, experts warn this drilling frenzy may have wiped out most of the gains made by slashing carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal.

It's a paradox that the Washington Post labeled “a jarring juxtapostion” and “the contradiction at the heart of President Obama's climate change policy.” 

Study Finds Methane Leaks 1,000 Times EPA Estimates During Marcellus Drilling

Read time: 6 mins

This week, a United Nations panel on climate change issued one of its most urgent warnings to date, explaining that unless major changes to greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years, it will become extraordinarily difficult to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.

We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee, told The New York Times

With the time to cut emissions running out, the Obama administration has seized upon the hope that greenhouse gasses can be cut dramatically by switching from coal to natural gas, because gas gives off half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned. Indeed, when the EPA published its annual greenhouse gas inventory this Tuesday, it credited a switch from coal to natural gas with helping to cut carbon emissions nationwide.

But a new scientific paper, also published Tuesday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, further upends the notion that the current shale gas drilling rush is truly helping the U.S. cut its total greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the evidence suggests, the Obama administration has understated the full climate impacts of natural gas, focusing too much on only carbon dioxide and failing to take into account another key greenhouse gas: methane.

The paper, the first to directly measure methane plumes above natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, recorded methane leaks far more powerful than EPA estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere — in other words, during the small window of time identified as crucial by the U.N.’s climate panel.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Read time: 7 mins

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

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