A massive gas well leak in California northwest of Los Angeles has sickened dozens, forced the relocation of thousands of residents and two schools, and caused untold damage to our climate. As Massachusetts lawmakers consider subsidizing new or expanded fracked gas pipelines, the Porter Ranch gas geyser is fresh evidence that locking in our gas addiction would be a climate disaster.
Activists in the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch have spent years trying to stop oil & gas drilling, but California has gone full-speed ahead anyway. This leak began October 23 and Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times reports tests have shown hydrogen sulfide levels in the area at 183 parts per billion — six times the state standard for a chemical that can be poisonous. Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker calls it the biggest environmental crisis since the Gulf oil disaster. A relief well won’t stop it for months.
According to Mashable’s Andrew Freedman, Environmental Defense Fund estimates the size of the leak at an astounding 62 million standard cubic feet of methane per day:
“That’s the same short-term greenhouse gas impact as the emissions from 7 million cars,” the group says on its website.
Timothy O’Connor, who directs EDF’s oil and gas program in California, said the Aliso Canyon leak is of a size and scope that is “unprecedented for California.” It’s about equal to the emissions from eight or nine coal-fired power plants, he said in an interview.
As utilities have increasingly turned to natural gas as the country’s main source of fuel for generating electricity, displacing coal, they often tout its climate benefits as a cleaner burning fuel. However, research shows that if leaks of methane, which is a more potent but shorter-acting climate pollutant compared to carbon dioxide, are not curtailed, the climate benefits of natural gas can be dramatically lessened or negated entirely.
This graph shows why gas is so dangerous for our climate. If you only consider end-stage power plant carbon emissions (blue), you can make fracked gas seem much better for the climate than coal. But that’s just one stage of the process. If you include methane leaks (white) – a much stronger climate disrupter than carbon – fracked shale gas is just as bad or worse for our climate than coal:
This morning, New England is getting 51% of its power from gas and 30% from nuclear, leaving us dangerously dependent on just two energy sources. We’re only getting 2% of our power from wind and a tiny fraction from solar. No one’s saying we can quit gas tomorrow, but shouldn’t we dramatically expand solar and onshore & offshore wind before we spend billions on new fracked gas pipelines?
Email your legislators right now to ask them to commit Massachusetts to clean energy in any new energy bill.