Capped a Massive Methane Leak, but Another is Brewing right here in
13 February, 2016
The Aliso Canyon Oil Field, a natural gas storage facility in southern California, spewed an estimated 96,000 metric tons of methane into the air over the last four months, before it was temporarily capped this week. At its worst, the leak, which has been likened to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, was responsible for a 25 percent increase in the state’s daily methane emissions. It also pushed hundreds of residents of the nearby Porter Ranch neighborhood out of their homes and prompted California’s governor to declare a state of emergency.
But a comparable climate disaster brewing in Texas has received far less attention from regulators and the media — perhaps because there isn’t a single huge leak to point to. Every hour, natural gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale region emit thousands of tons of methane — a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — and a slate of noxious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and benzene.
The Aliso Canyon leak was big. The Barnett leaks, combined, are even bigger. But regulators in Texas have done very little to address this well documented problem.
Researchers at the Environmental Defense Fund, working with university researchers in Colorado and Michigan among others, estimate that the more than 25,000 natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale emit as much as 60,000 kilograms of methane every hour. That’s more than the 58,000 kilograms per hour the Aliso Canyon was emitting at its peak back in November.
Fracking equipment near homes in Denton, in the Barnett Shale region.
class="pull-quote center" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 25px -62px 60px; padding: 0px; font-family: 'Archer SSm A', 'Archer SSm B'; font-style: normal; font-size: 30px; line-height: 1.5; font-weight: normal; color: rgb(192, 0, 0);"“If you don’t have frequent monitoring, there’s no way you’re going to know when one of these super-emitters begins spewing.”“If one well was a super-emitter the day we measured them, it could change the next day,” said Daniel Zavala-Araiza, lead researcher of a 2015 Environmental Defense Fund study of methane emissions in the Barnett Shale. “It’s not just about finding a handful of sites. You need to be looking continuously to keep finding the ones that are malfunctioning.”