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Aliso Canyon natural gas leak - Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

A Climate Disaster – California in state of emergency as a result of massive natural gas leak

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas well equipment failure in southern California has resulted in the largest point release of methane to the atmosphere in U.S. history. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a California state of emergency for the incident, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified the site as the single largest source point of global warming.1 Since October 23, 2015 the failure has been reported to be releasing 62 million cubic feet of methane per day – 110,000 pounds per hour – for a total of about 80 million metric tons thus far. (A running counter for the natural gas leak can be found here, on Mother Jones).2,3 This quantity amounts to a quarter of California’s total methane emissions, and the impact to the climate is calculated to be the equivalent of the operation of 7 million cars.

SoCalGas (a subsidiary of Sempra Energy) reports that nothing can be done to stop or reduce the leak until February or March of 2016. As a result, the nearby community of Porter Ranch has been largely evacuated (30,000 people) due to health complaints and the rotten egg smell of tertbutyl mercaptan and tetradydrothiophen. Air quality sampling, being assessed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment (OEHHA), measured volatile organic compounds, specifically the carcinogen benzene, at concentrations below acute toxicity health standards.4 Exposure to benzene even at low levels presents a risk of cancer and other health hazards. Locals have complained of headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds and nausea. The LA County Department of Public Health has ordered SoCalGas to offer free temporary relocation to any area residents affected. About 1,000 people are suing the company.5 A fly over of the site has been posted to youtube by the Environmental Defense Fund, and can be seen here. The video uses a FLIR camera to take infrared video that shows the leak.

Site Description

CA gas storage and Aliso Canyon natural gas leak

Figure 1. California active natural gas storage fields most active in 2014

The source of the leak is a natural gas storage well operated by SoCalGas in the Aliso Canyon oil field – a drained oil field now used to store natural gas. SoCalGas is the largest natural gas utility in the U.S., distributing natural gas to 20.9 million.4 Aliso Canyon is the largest gas storage field in the state, but there are numerous other gas storage fields in the state that could present similar risks. In Figure 1, to the right, California’s other currently active gas storage fields are shown. Injection volumes of natural gas are summed and averaged over the area of the field, and the Aliso Canyon is shown to have injected over 1,000,000 cubic feet per km2 of natural gas since the beginning of 2014. Other high volume fields include Honor Rancho, McDonald Island Gas, and Wild Goose Gas.

The failed well, known as Standard Sesnon 25, is marked with a red star in the map of gas storage wells shown below (Figure 2). The well was drilled in October of 1953. Reports show that pressures in the well bored reached 2,516 PSI in 2015. If you use the map to navigate around the state of California, it is clear that there are numerous other natural gas storage facilities in California, with wellbore pressures similar to or higher than the reported pressure of Standard Sesnon 25 and other wells in the Aliso Canyon Field. Beyond California, the state of Michigan is reported to have the most natural gas storage by volume, at 1.1 trillion cubic feet.6 The incident that caused the leak was a well casing failure, although the cause of the well casing failure has not yet been identified. There have been numerous editorials written that have painted SoCalGas as a model for contemporary corporate greed and corruption for several reasons, including the removal of safety valves, reports of corrosion, and lack of resources for inspections and repairs.7 Rather than this being a unique case of criminal neglect, casing failures are a statistical likelihood for wells of this age. Well casing failures are a systemic issue of all oil and gas development. Every well casing has a shelf life and will fail eventually.8 Additionally, leaks from gas storage wells have occurred at other SoCalGas natural gas storage facilities in California, such as Montebello and Playa Del Rey.

Figure 2. California’s gas storage wells. The size of orange markers indicates wellhead pressure, as reported in 2015. Blue markers show the volume of gas injected in 2014/2015. The Aliso Canyon leak at ‘Standard Sesnon 25’ natural gas storage well is marked with a red star. Click here to manipulate the map. After expanded, use the “Layers” menu to visualize the data with colored markers rather than size. 

Response

Fixing the problem is therefore much more complicated, overall, in this specific case. Since the well casing has ruptured deep underground, natural gas is leaking in the annular space outside the borehole and spewing from the topsoil surrounding the well head. To stop the leak the production pipe must be plugged below the rupture. All attempts to plug the well from the surface have failed due to the high pressure within the borehole, a 7” inner diameter of the production pipe. Therefore, a relief well is being drilled to intersect the well casing, to inject a mud-chemical cocktail intended to plug the well far below the casing failure. Updates on the response, claims information, and the location of the Community Resource Center can be found here. Additionally, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, which means federal support and a requirement of the state of California to cover the costs.9

The state response to the natural gas leak has included numerous agencies. According to documents from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the agencies leading the response are the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), California Air Resources Board (ARB), California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the CPUC. DOGGR is conducting an independent investigation of the incident. The investigation will include a third party analysis for root-cause issues. CARB is monitoring total methane emissions while the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment with CalEPA are collecting and reviewing air quality data. Coordinated response information can be found on the CalOES site. SoCalGas has submitted a proposal to regulators to raise customer rates in order to raise $30 million for a more proactive approach to inspections and repairs.10

This event is the largest, but is not the first major methane/natural gas leak to occur at a wellsite. Leaks can result from a number of natural and anthropogenic (man made) causes. Besides the natural degradation of well integrity with age, acute events can also cause casing failures. There are documented cases where seismic activity has caused casing failures.

As a result of an earthquake natural fractures in the region can grow and disrupt well bores. In areas of dense drilling, fracture stimulations that propagate improperly or intersect unknown faults. When two wells become interconnected, known as “downhole communication” or a “frack hit” when it occurs due to hydraulic fracturing, spills and leaks can occur due to over-pressurization. In many states, these risks are mitigated by having setbacks between wells. California, the most seismically active state, has minimal setbacks for drilling or fracking oil and gas wells. In previous research, FracTracker found that over 96% of new hydraulic fractures in 2013 were drilled within 1,200 feet of another well, which would even violate setback rules in Texas!

Climate Impacts

Natural gas is hailed by the fossil fuel industry as the bridge fuel that will allow the world to transition to renewables. The main argument claims natural gas is necessary to replace coal as our main source of generating electricity. Burning both coal and natural gas produce carbon dioxide, but natural gas is more efficient. For the same amount of energy production, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide emissions. The legitimate threat of climate impacts comes from fugitive (leaked) emissions of methane, before the natural gas can be burned. Since methane is a gas, it is much harder to contain than oil or coal. Methane is also more insulating than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (34-86 times more insulating), making it a more potent greenhouse gas. The leaked natural gas from the Aliso Canyon well is currently equivalent to 7,000,000 tons of CO2 (Updated here, on Mother Jones).

Current estimates show methane is responsible for 25% of the world’s anthropogenic warming to date. Proponents of the bridge fuel theorize that if methane leakage can be kept under 4% of total production, natural gas power generation will provide a climate-positive alternative to coal. EPA estimates set the leakage rate at 2.4%, but independent research estimates actual rates up to 7.9%.11 The EDF has been conducting an $18 million project focused on quantifying methane leaks from the natural gas industry. A team of 20 researchers from 13 institutions conducted the 2 year study measuring emissions from the Barnett Shale. Details can be found on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Page.12

Natural Gas Leak References

  1. Goldenberg, S. (2016). A single gas well leak is California’s biggest contributor to climate change. The Guardian. Accessed 1/6/16.
  2. Environmental Defense Fund. (2015). Aerial Footage of Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. via YouTube. Accessed 1/5/16.
  3. Lurie, J. (2016). Thousands of Californians are Fleeing an Enormous Methane Leak. Here are 8 Things You Need to Know. Mother Jones. Accessed 1/6/16.
  4. CalOES. (2015). Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. Accessed 1/8/15.
  5. BBC. (2015). California state of emergency over methane leak. Accessed 1/8/15
  6. Ellison, G. (2015). Michigan has most underground natural gas storage in U.S. MLive. Accessed 1/8/15.
  7. Reicher, M. (2015). SocalGas knew of corrosion at Porter Ranch gas facility, doc shows. LA Daily News. Accessed 1/5/16.
  8. Ingraffea et al. (2013). Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012. PNAS. Vol.111 no.30.
  9. Cronin, M. (2015). Why Engineers Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ Enormous Methane Leak. Accessed 1/4/16.
  10. CUUC. (2015). Appendix A. Accessed 1/5/15. [please note that some CPUC files are being taken offline for unknown reasons]
  11. Howarth et al. (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change. 106:679-690.
  12. Song, L. (2015). Texas Fracking Zone Emits 90% More Methane Than EPA Estimated. InsideClimate News.

Feature Image: Aliso Canyon natural gas leak – Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

Hydrocarbon Industrial Complex Map In Detail

Below is a brand new map from our team that contains multiple data layers that speak to the myriad players and facilities involved in the North American hydrocarbon network – from upstream processing facilities to transporters and export terminals. This map helps us to demonstrate the complexity of the hydrocarbon industry, because we often assume that hydraulic fracturing or related extractive techniques are local issues. However, there is actually a tremendous – and growing – interconnectivity between production, transport, processing, usage, storage, and export.


To see a fullscreen version of this map, along with a legend and description, click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map.

Data Descriptions

EIA Sources: Peak Shavers, Underground Natural Gas Storage, Compressor Station, Natural Gas HUBs, and Pipeline Data

Peak Shavers are:

…used for storing surplus natural gas that is to be used to meet the requirements of peak consumption later during winter or summer. Each peak-shaving facility has a regasification unit attached but may or may not have a liquefaction unit…[they] depend upon tank trucks to bring LNG from other nearby sources to them. Of the approximate 113 active LNG facilities in the United States, 57 are peak-shaving facilities. The other LNG facilities include marine terminals, storage facilities, and operations involved in niche markets such as LNG vehicular fuel. Learn more

The data included in this map include 109 Peak Shavers vs. the aforementioned 57.

  • Regional distribution: 7 Central US, 12 Midwest, 53 Northwest, 24 Southeast, 5 Southwest, 8 Western
  • 106 of which are active and 3 under construction

The Underground Natural Gas Storage Facilities (UNGSF) layer is an EIA-defined collection of 413 facilities1, a definition that includes “pipelines, local distribution companies, producers, and pipeline shippers with an inventory management tool, seasonal supply backup, and access to natural gas needed to avoid imbalances between receipts and deliveries on a pipeline network.” (For a more detailed description of UNGSF, see the EIA’s description)

Compressor Stations are designed to ensure:

…that the natural gas flowing through any one pipeline remains pressurized, compression of this natural gas is required periodically along the pipe…usually placed at 40 to 100 mile intervals along the pipeline. The natural gas enters the compressor station, where it is compressed by either a turbine, motor, or engine…[they] gain their energy by using up a small proportion of the natural gas that they compress.

For a more detailed discussion of the importance and design of compressor stations, refer to NaturalGas.org’s The Transportation of Natural Gas.

  • This layer includes: 1,756 compressor stations with the following regional distribution: 207 Canadian, 344 Central US, 14 Gulf Coast, 169 Midwest, 249 Northeast, 191 Southeast, 450 Southwest, and 132 Western stations
  • The mean and total horsepower across 1,417 of these facilities is 10,411 and 18,282,484, respectively, with average and total throughput of 660 and 1,159 Billion Cubic Feet (BCF)2.

Natural Gas HUBs are broken down by operator type with 26 “Market Center”, 31 “Market Hub”, 3 “Production Hub”, and 3 “Storage Hub” facilities included.

  • Regional distribution: 9 in Canada, 7 across the Central US, 4 in the Midwest, 8 in the Northeast, 4 in the Southeast, 24 in the Southwest, and 7 in the Western US.
  • All facilities were activated between 1994 and 1998
  • Status: 5 Canceled, 13 Inactive, 36 Operational, and 9 Proposed HUBs

Pipeline segments are parsed by type: a) 69 sections totaling 1,627 miles described as “Gathering” at an average diameter of 17 inches, b) 18,905 segments totaling 127,049 miles as “Interstate” with an average diameter of 15 inches, and  c) 15,152 “Intrastate” segments totaling 66,939 miles and an average diameter of 2.8 inches.

Select states statistics:

  1. 7,450 segments were located in Texas with a total length of 44,600 miles,
  2. 1,313 segments were located in California with a total length of 6,370 miles,
  3. 2,738 segments in Louisiana with a  total length of 15,330,
  4. New York and New Jersey are home to a combined 2,315 pipeline segments with a total length of 4,015 miles,
  5. 859 segments and 5,935 miles in Ohio,
  6. Great Lakes bordering states contain 6,841 pipeline segments totaling 33,457 miles,
  7. Pacific Northwest states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana contain 1,765 segments totaling 6,121 miles,
  8. Gulf Coast states sans Texas contain 3,886 pipeline segments totaling 25,775 miles.

The above datasets were compiled by Ted Auch and Daniel Berghoff of the FracTracker Alliance or sourced from the US Energy Information Administration via their Natural Gas data portal and their analysts Tu Tran and Robert King.

US River and Coastal Export/Import Ports

US inland (i.e., Mississippi River) and coastal ports are the singular ways in which all manner of hydrocarbons are transported to downstream processing facilities and subsequently used domestically or exported. The data contained herein include 12 Mississippi, 7 Ohio and Tennessee River, and 11 Columbia river ports along with 16 Great Lakes/St. Lawrence river ports (Table 1).

Table 1. Number of inland and coastal US and territories ports as of December 2013.

State

Number of Ports

State

Number of Ports

AK

40

MO

2

AL

7

MS

3

AR

2

NC

2

CA

9

NJ

2

CT

3

NY

6

DE, VA, MD, & DC

6

OH

2

FL

17

OK

2

GA

2

OR

13

HI

7

PA

2

IA

1

PR

1

ID

1

RI

1

IL

4

SC

1

KY

2

TN

4

LA

13

TX

11

MA

3

VI

1

ME

2

WA

6

MI

6

WI

4

MN

4

WV

2

US Coal Plants & Emissions

We were pointed to this data by Source Watch’s “Coal Swarm” project’s Director Ted Nace and researcher Joshua Frank. Learn more. The layer includes coal used, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), methane (CH4), oxides of nitrogen (NOX), and mercury (Hg). Also included are the number of deaths across a variety of categories and emergency room visits attributed to each coal plant, along with estimates of the valuation of each of these. The raw data are available from the the US EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) comprehensive data portal with the “Version 1.0” ZIP file containing: “spreadsheet files, state import-export files, Technical Support Document, file structure document, Summary Tables, GHG output emission rates, the EUEC2010 paper, and graphical representations of eGRID subregion and NERC region maps. Data in this file encompasses years 2009, 2007, 2005 and 2004.” The data were most recently updated on May 10, 2012 in order to include 2009 data.

Transload Facilities Directory

Directory Description:

Rail-to-truck transload facilities where cargo is transferred between tank trucks and water or rail transportation…These bulk material handling companies also provide information such as products handled, services and equipment available, and methods for dry bulk product transfer…These intermodal locations are owned or operated by trucking companies, railroads, or independent bulk terminal operators. Unless the prohibition is stated, these businesses have indicated they allow outside carriers to load products at their facilities. Learn more

Services Key:

  • Products handled: a. Acids, b. Chemicals (liquid), c. Chemicals (dry), d. Asphalt, e. Foods (liquid), f. Foods (dry), g. Plastics (dry), h. Petroleum products
  • Services/equipment available: a. Air compressor, b. Scale, c. Blending meters, d. Sampling service, e. Hot water heating, f. Steam heating, g. Tank trailer cleaning, h. Liquid storage tanks, i. Liquid pumps
  • Dry bulk product transfer by: a. Vacuum trailer, b. Auger, c. Blower, d. Gravity (trestle), e. Portable vacuum/air conveyor, f. Bulk conveyor

Intermodal Tank Containers

Those facilities “that have actual storage depot operations. The operators specialize in both the handling and storage of ISO containers.” Learn more

Intermodal tanks are:

… intermodal container[s] for the transport of liquids, gases and powders as bulk cargo…built to the [International Organization for Standardization] Standard, making it suitable for different modes of transportation. Both hazardous and non-hazardous products can be transported in tank containers. A tank container is a vessel of stainless steel surrounded by an insulation and protective layer of usually Polyurethane and aluminum. The vessel is in the middle of a steel frame. The frame is made according to ISO standards and is 19.8556 feet (6.05 meters) long, 7.874 feet (2.40 meters) wide and 7.874 feet (2.40 meters) or 8.374 feet (2.55 meters) high. The contents of the tank ranges from 27,000 to 40,000 liters (5,900 to 8,800 imp gal; 7,100 to 11,000 U.S. gal). There are both smaller and larger tank containers, which usually have a size different from the ISO standard sizes. The trade organization @TCO estimates that at the end of 2012 the global fleet of tank containers is between 340,000 and 380,000. (Wikipedia definition)

Services Key: a. Storage, b. Cleaning, c. Container shuttle service, d. Container drayage, e. Steam/electric heat, f. Rail siding, g. Repair/refurbishing, h. American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) certification, i. American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) certification, j. ISO 9000 certification, k. 2.5- and 5-year ABS testing, l. Reefer tank repairs, m. Parts supply

Abbreviations: SC=straddle carrier, TLSL=top-lifting side-loader, D/D=drop-deck

MarkWest Facilities

Facility locational data gathered from the company’s operations website.

Cargo Tank Repair Directory

“Bulk Transporter’s Cargo Tank Trailer Repair Directory…the most comprehensive listing of repair facilities that service tank trucks and tank trailers. Additionally, many of these facilities offer custom fabrication. Most listings include services offered, but tank truck operators are encouraged to contact the facilities directly for more information…The first six items listed on the “Services Key” are the DOT tests and inspections required by federal law. Companies listing “R” or “U” stamps were asked to provide Bulk Transporter with a record of their accreditation. The federal CT registration number also was requested for the tank repair shops in the directory.” Learn more

Repair Services Key:

1. External visual inspection, 2. Internal visual inspection, 3. Lining inspection, 4. Leakage test, 5. Pressure retesting, 6. Thickness testing, 7. MC330/331 retesting, 8. Vapor recovery testing, 9. Bottom-loading conversion, 10. Major barrel repair, 11. Tank passivation, 12. Sandblasting/painting, 13. Tank changeouts, 14. Tank degassing, 15. Tank cleaning (for repair only), 16. Custom fabrication, 17. Purchase wrecked trailers, 18. Pick-up & delivery, 19. Lining repair, 20. ASME “U” stamp, 21. National Board “R” stamp

Soon To Be Added Data:

Tank Cleaning Directory

The Commercial Tank Cleaning Directory…information…was supplied by the operators of commercial and carrier-owned tank wash facilities that provide cargo tank interior cleaning. Directory listings may include product limitations such as “food grade only” or “no hazmat.” Learn more


Footnotes

[1] 407 active and 6 inactive facilities; Region –

  1. 259 “Consuming East” primarily within depleted reservoirs providing supplemental backup and/or peak period supply,
  2. 49 “Consuming West” primarily for domestic US and Alberta gas to flow at constant rates, and
  3. 105 “Producing” facilities which are primarily responsible for hydrocarbon basin export connectivity, transmission, and distribution and allow for the storage of currently redundant natural gas supply; Field Type Affiliation – 43 aquifers, 331 depleted fields, and 39 salt domes. Learn more

[2] These total horsepower and throughput figures are up from 13.4 million and 743 BCF in 1996.

2013 American Industrial Hygiene Association Fall Conference

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker was recently in attendance at the American Industrial Hygiene Association annual conference, held in Miami, FL, September 28-October 1st.  The FracTracker Alliance’s Kyle Ferrar participated in the workshop “Natural GAS EXTRACTION – Rising Energy Demands Mandate a Multi-Perspective Approach.”  The workshop was moderated by Dr. Mark Roberts, and in addition to the FracTracker Alliance, there was a presentation by NIOSH Senior Industrial Hygienist Eric Esswein and the well-versed chemist, engineer, and industry associate/consultant  John Ely.  The workshop was well-attended (sold out).

In case you missed it, FracTracker’s annotated presentation is posted here:  Ferrar_AIHA Presentation_9.29.13.