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Air Pollution in the Bay Area’s Refinery Corridor

Emissions from Refineries and other Sources
By
Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator &
Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement

Key Takeaways

  • Refineries and petrochemical industry in the Bay Area’s refinery corridor are responsible for the majority of the risk-driving point source emissions in this region.
  • The Chevron Richmond refinery has the largest refining capacity and emits the most hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
  • The Tesoro refinery in Martinez and the Shell refinery in Martinez emit the most HAPs per barrel of oil (based on refining capacity).
  • The Valero refinery in Benicia, the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, and the Shell refinery in Martinez emit the most criteria air pollutants (CAPs).
  • If refineries increase their capacity and process more crude, the emissions of these various pollutants will invariably increase.
  • New emissions rules need to prioritize ambient air quality and hold the Air District and elected officials accountable for policies that increase risk.

Overview of the Bay Area’s Refinery Corridor

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is revising the rules for facilities that emit a variety of hazardous pollutants into the air. The current draft of the new rules could actually increase the amount polluters are allowed to emit. The communities at risk are speaking out to support policies that would reduce the amount of air pollutants rather than increase the limits. In support of these communities, the FracTracker Alliance has focused on analyzing the sources of air pollutants in the region. The East Bay Oil Refinery Corridor is located along the North Shore of the East Bay, stretching from Richmond, CA east to Antioch, CA. The region has been named a “sacrifice zone” for the heavy concentration of petrochemical industrial sites. In addition to the five refineries along the north coast, these communities host a variety of other heavy industries and waste sites. The locations of these facilities have been mapped previously by the FracTracker Alliance, here. In the report we found that people of color, specifically African Americans, are disproportionately represented in the community demographics. Novel results indicate that Hispanic students may be disproportionately impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry. In this post, we continue the analysis of risk in the region by providing an analysis of the contributions to air pollution from these facilities.

Regulations

Refineries and other sources of air pollution are regulated by the U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Act (CAA). The CAA regulates two classes of pollutants:

  1. Criteria air pollutants (CAPs) – including sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter; and
  2. Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), which includes a list of 594 carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic chemicals that pose a risk to those exposed.

In addition, California regulates green-house-gas (GHG) emissions, and refineries are the second largest industrial source of GHGs. These regulations get applied when facilities need to obtain a permit for a new source of air pollution, or if a facility is making a structural change that could significantly affect emissions. Facilities are required to use “Maximum Available Control Technology” as it relates to industry best practices to control emissions. With these existing engineering controls, refinery emissions are released into the air from the multiple sources/processes shown below in Figure 1. Notice that a large amount of emissions are simply from “Leaks.”

Sources of Refinery HAPs

Figure 1. Breakdown of emissions from petroleum refineries (US EPA, 2011)

The new rules drafted by the BAAQMD to regulate emissions from the East Bay Oil Refinery Corridor would not cap emissions at any level. The current proposal outlines limits on emissions per barrel, promoting efficiency rather than focusing on emissions reductions. Air quality in the refinery corridor could be improved only if this approach was proposed in conjunction with emission limits or reductions. But as the currently proposed rules stand, emissions could actually increase. Enforcement procedures for infractions are also limited. If a refinery’s emissions violate the per barrel standards, the refinery has a whole 3 years to address the violation. Also, these new rules come at a time when refineries are moving to increase the volume of crude coming in from other regions, such as Canada’s tar sands and the Bakken Shale. These regions produce much lower “quality” crude oil, with much higher emissions. This all amounts to more air pollution rather than less.

Community and environmental activist groups such as the Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition have raised specific issues with the proposed rules as they stand. First, they allow for increase emissions when Air District data forecasts increasing refinery emissions, despite declining local and domestic fuels demand. Refining the lower quality crude is more energy intensive, which also results in increased emissions. In order to offset the increased emissions, CBE reports that refineries can just increase total refining production to decrease per barrel averages. This would in affect increase emissions to meet regulatory requirements. In addition, transporting the crude via new shipping routes would put additional communities at elevated risk of railway accidents (CBE, 2015).

Ambient Air Quality

Air quality in the Bay Area has been continuously improving over the last few decades, but these refinery communities are still at a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease and strokes. The largest disparity is felt by the African-American populations. Data for Richmond, CA shows they are 1.5 times more likely to die from these diseases than the Contra Costa county average (Casanova, Diemoz, Lifshay, McKetney, 2010). Emissions reductions not only favor the local communities such as the refinery corridor that are most impacted, but also all of the downwind communities, specifically the Central Valley. The Air District’s 2012 report of PM provides a summary of these trends. PM is an important because it is “the air pollutant that causes by far the greatest harm to public health in the bay area. It is a useful indices because there is a linear correlation between increasing ambient concentrations and mortality. Figure 2 shows the progress the Bay Area has made, overall. This graph is based on regional monitors and not those in the refinery communities, where improvements have not been as drastic. In Figure 3 below, the graph shows major pollutant drivers of seven health risks and how health impacts have been reduced over this time period. What we see from the bar graph, is that non-diesel anthropogenic point sources of PM contribute the most to risk for the majority of health endpoints considered. Across the entire bay area, refineries account for 6% of all PM (BAAQMD, 2012).

An overview of other chemicals associated with the petrochemical industry in ambient air and their resulting health effects are outlined in tables 1-3 below. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are chemicals of primary concern, specific to petroleum refinery emissions, and are known risk drivers for the region.

Fig 2 PM

Figure 2. Measurements of PM, averaged across the entire bay area, over time – showing an overall improvement in air quality.

Fig 3 health impacts

Figure 3. Contribution of different species of air pollution to health impacts. The analysis is specific to the bay area and compares health risks estimates from the past (1980s) to estimates in 2012.

Table 1. Health impacts from criteria air pollutants

Criteria Air Pollutants
Compound Health Effect
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) Array of adverse respiratory effects, airway inflammation in healthy people, increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Harmful health effects associated with the reduction of oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (heart and brain) and tissues
Particulate Matter Increased respiratory symptoms, irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease

Table 2. Health impacts from hazardous air pollutants known to be emitted from petroleum refineries

Hazardous Air Pollutants
Compound Acute Chronic
Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylenes Neurological effects, Irritation of the eye, skin and respiratory tract Blood disorders (reduced number of red blood cells and aplastic anemia), cancer.
1,3-Butadiene Irritation of the eyes, throat and respiratory tract Cardiovascular effects, leukemia, cancer
Naphthalene Hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, neurological effects Cataracts, damage to the retina, hemolytic anemia, cancer
PAHs Skin disorders, depression of the immune system Skin disorders (dermatitis, photosensitization), depression of the immune system, damage to the respiratory tract, cataracts, cancer

Table 3. Health impacts from other pollutants emitted from petroleum refineries

Other Pollutants
Compound Mechanism Health Effect
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Combine with NOx in sunlight to create ozone Significantly reduce lung function and induce respiratory inflammation in normal. Healthy people during periods of moderate exercise, symptoms include chest pain, coughing, nausea, and pulmonary congestion
Greenhouse Gases (GHG), including Methane (CH4), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Compounds with high global warming potential contribute to climate change Increase in average temperatures, higher levels of ground-level ozone, increased drought, harm to water resources, ecosystems and wildlife, health risk to sensitive populations

North Coast Emissions

With these gains in ambient air quality it is hard to fathom why regulators would consider allowing refineries to increase emissions inventories. For this analysis, the focus was to map and compare emissions inventories from numerous industrial sites, with a particular focus on the petroleum refineries.

Current refinery capacities as of 2014 are shown in Figure 4, below. The Richmond Chevron has the largest refining capacity in the region, by far. Refining capacity is the maximum amount of crude oil the refinery is allowed to refine, according to their permit. Refining capacity numbers are used in place of actual refined crude volumes for this analysis, because actual crude volumes are considered proprietary information and are not published by the California Energy Commission (CEC).

The Richmond refinery has a raw crude (atmospheric crude is the technical term) refinement capacity over twice as large as the Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery, and almost 40% larger than the Tesoro (Golden Eagle) refinery, which is the second largest in the region. According to the newly proposed rules, this would allow the Richmond refinery to emit the most pollutants.

The raw total emissions data is shown in Figure 5. The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo contributes the least to ambient air quality degradation. The Chevron Richmond refinery processes 40 – 100% more than the four other refineries, and emits 10 – 570% more than the other refiners. This large difference in capacity and emissions means that Chevron Richmond is more efficient than some, but much less efficient than others. To understand the efficiency differences between the refineries, the total HAPs emissions were adjusted by the refining capacity, shown below in Figure 6. With this data we can rank the refining efficiency specifically for HAPs emissions, based on facility capacity. The Tesoro refinery in Martinez and the Shell refinery in Martinez emit the most HAPs per barrel oil (based on refining capacity). From highest emitter to lowest emitter per barrel of crude, the facilities can be ranked:

  1. Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co LLC (Golden Eagle Refinery in Martinez)
  2. Shell Oil Products (Martinez Refinery)
  3. Chevron Products Co Richmond Refinery
  4. Valero Refining Co – California Benicia Refinery
  5. Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery (Rodeo Refinery)
fig 4 capacity

Figure 4. Operating capacity of refineries. The bars show the maximum amount of crude the refineries are allowed to process daily, in barrels (1 barrel = 42 gallons).

fig 5 total

Figure 5. Total amount of HAPs emissions from East Bay refineries

These refineries along with the other industrial sites in the region have been mapped below in Figure 7. The data has been displayed to show the HAPs emissions from these facilities. The amounts of emissions are shown with graduated circles. The larger the circle, the higher the emissions. The cumulative summation of HAPs is a good value for comparing between facilities with diverse emission inventories (the list of all species of emitted pollutants), but different HAP chemicals have very different effects, both in magnitude and in health impacts. Different chemicals will affect different body systems, as described above in Tables 1-3 above. We have therefore incorporated individual chemical data into the map as well (Figure 7, below). The data displayed shows the total sum of HAPs emitted (in lbs/year) from petrochemical industrial facilities in the region. Explore the map to see emission sources for a selection of important pollutants. Smaller industrial sites/sources have been left out of the map.

Figure 7. Map of the East Bay’s Refinery Corridor with emissions data

View Map Fullscreen | How Our Maps Work
If you open the map into its own page, you can toggle between individual chemical emissions from these facilities. Use the layers tab to change the chemicals displayed. For more information on the individual chemicals, continue reading below.

This unique selection of pollutants was chosen by identifying the highest health risk drivers in the region. They are known to increase both cancer and non-cancer risk for residents in the bay area. The graphs that follow show the emissions inventories reported by each refinery. The refineries are organized on the X –axis according to increasing refining capacity, as they are in Figure 4, above.

Analysis of the graphs show that the Richmond Chevron facility is a largely responsible for 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, naphthalene, hydrogen cyanide, PAH’s, vanadium, lead and nickel compounds. The Tesoro refinery is mostly responsible for almost all of the 1,3-butadiene, and most responsible for hydrogen sulfide and VOCs. Shell is mostly responsible for the ethylbenzene, much of the mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions, and the most VOCs. Valero in Benicia is responsible for much of the 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, all BTEX compounds, the most nickel compounds, and the most oxides of nitrogen. And finally, the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo with the lowest operating capacity also had the lowest emissions in almost every case except lead, which was very large compared to all refineries except Chevron Richmond. The Valero refinery in Benicia, the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, and the Shell refinery in Martinez emit the most criteria air pollutants (CAPs), including PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 um), sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen.

Figure 8 – 22. Emissions totals of various air pollutants from East Bay refineries

Marine Terminals

Emissions from marine terminals are also a significant source of HAPs and particulate matter. In the map in Figure 7, the marine terminals are shown with yellow markers. Their relative contributions of total hazardous pollutants are much less than the refineries and other sources, but when we look at specific risk drivers, such as 1,3-butadiene and benzene, we find that their contributions are quite sizable. Marine terminals are also a key component for the refineries looking to access more low-grade crude. Increasing the refining capacity of the refinery will also increase the emissions from the terminals.

The Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery in Martinez, CA was recently approved for a 30-year lease on a new marine terminal. The new terminal will allow Tesoro to switch to processing lower-cost, lower-quality crude oil from California, Bakken crude, and Canadian tar sands. When crude is transported via ocean liner, besides the issue of air pollution there is the additional risk of an ocean spill. Tom Griffith, Martinez resident and co-founder of the Martinez Environmental Group and founding member of the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition recently summed up the threat, saying:

When you take a close look at what is going on in the marine oil terminals along the refinery corridor from Richmond to Stockton, it’s chilling to imagine what could happen if a huge oil tanker carrying tar sands crude crashed in the Bay! (Earthjustice, 2015)

Incidents

Chevron Fire 2012

Figure 23. Fires at Chevron Richmond Refinery 2012. Photo by John Sebastian Russo for the SF Chronicle

Like oil spills from tankers, there are other risks of industrial accidents for refineries that need to be considered. Accidents or incidents may occur that result in a sudden, large release of air pollution. Looking at the emissions data, the Richmond Chevron refinery with the largest production capacity may seem to be an efficient station compared to the other refineries. However, an explosion and large fire in 2012 there sent 15,000 community members to local hospitals with respiratory distress. The SF Chronicle’s coverage of the story can be found here. (Fire shown in photo right.) The incident resulted from pipes corroding and failing, and the facility failing to make the decision to shut down the process. The resulting plume of smoke is shown in the cover photo of this article. Other major explosions and fires have occurred in the recent past, as well, including a flaring incident in 2014, a fire in 2007, and two other explosion and fire events in 1999 and 1989.

Of course these events are not unique to the Chevron refinery. The Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery has a reputation of being the most dangerous refinery in the country for occupational hazards, and has one of the worst track records of violations.

Conclusions

If refineries increase their capacity and process more crude, the emissions of these various pollutants will invariably increase. Increased emissions elevate risk for surrounding communities, and in the bay area these communities already bare a disparate burden. Additionally, many of the pollutants will be transported with the prevailing wind that blows from the coast up the river delta and into the central valley. In FracTracker’s recent analysis of impacted communities in the refinery corridor, maps of air quality showed that the refinery communities are some of the most impacted in the entire bay area.

In addition, California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the U.S. Click here to view maps of state air quality of disproportionate impacts by us using CalEnviroScreen 2.0. While many of the HAPs have a greater local impact, others such as ozone have regional impacts, while others like mercury are transported globally.

What we find in this report is that the refineries and petrochemical industry in the refinery corridor are responsible for the majority of the risk-driving emissions in this region. When the risk and total emissions are averaged for the entire Bay Area, the risk outcomes are much less than for those living in the communities hosting the industries. New emissions rules should prioritize contributions of emissions to ambient air pollution loads. The biggest issue with using a “per barrel” emissions limit is that it prioritizes the refining capacity rather than mitigating the existing health impacts. These types of policy decisions deal directly with risk management. The Air Management District must decide what amount of cancer and disease are acceptable to keep the refineries in the communities. An upper limit on emissions makes it easier to set a risk limit, an upper bound for health impacts. The upper limit also holds the Air Management District and elected officials accountable for their policy decisions.

References

  1. U.S.EPA. 2011. Addressing Air Emissions from the Petroleum Refinery Sector U.S. EPA. Accessed 3/15/16.
  2. CBE. 2015. Playing It Safe: Supplemental comment on air district staff proposal, rules 12-15 and 12-16; Evidence of increasing bay area refinery GHG and pm2.5 emissions.. Communities for a Better Environment
  3. Casanova, D. Diemoz, L. Lifshay, J. McKetney, C. 2010. Community Heath Indicators for Contra Costa County. Community Health Assessment, Planning and Evaluation (CHAPE) Unit of Contra Costa Health Services’ Public Health division. Accessed 4/15/16.
  4. BAAQMD. 2012. Summary of PM Report. Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Accessed 4/15/16.

** Feature image of the Richmond Chevron Refinery courtesy of D.H. Parks

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

Disproportionate Drilling and Stimulations in California

New Report from FracTracker and the Natural Resources Defense Council
By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The FracTracker Alliance recently contributed to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), titled Drilling in California: Who’s at Risk?. In the report, we find that many communities disproportionally burdened by environmental and public health degradation also live in the areas most impacted by oil and gas (O&G) development, including hydraulic fracturing and acidizing. Additionally, the communities most impacted by such oil and gas activity are disproportionately non-white. Key points of the report are listed below, as outlined by the NRDC:

Key Points of “Drilling in California” Report

  • Expanding oil production in California, in areas already heavily drilled or in new areas, can threaten the health of communities.
  • New analysis shows that, already, approximately 5.4 million Californians live within a mile of one, or more, of the more than 84,000 existing oil and gas wells.
  • More than a third of the communities living with oil and gas wells are also burdened with the worst environmental pollution, as measured by CalEPA’s CalEnviroScreen 2.0. These communities, with heightened risks, are 92 percent people of color.
  • To prevent further environmental damage and public health threats, major improvements are required before hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, and other stimulation techniques are allowed to continue in California.

Read more>

The Analysis

The analysis used the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Office of Health Hazard and Assessment’s (OEHHA) impact screening tool CalEnviroScreen 2.0, which ranks all the census tracts in CA based on various indicators of environmental and public health degradation due to pollution sources. Stimulated and non-stimulated O&G well-site data came from multiple sources including the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources; the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and FracFocus.

Visualizing the Data

The interactive web map below (Figure 1) provides a visual understanding of how these areas may be additionally burdened by California’s industrial oil and gas extraction activities. The CalEnviroscreen 2.0 dataset of census tract scores was mapped spatially to show the areas in CA disproportionately burdened by existing environmental stressors and health impacts. The locations of CA’s O&G production wells were overlaid on these maps since the CalEnviroscreen ranks did not specifically take into account the role of O&G extraction activity in communities. The top 20th percentile of total scores are shown in the map’s default view, and more CalEnviroscreen scores are displayable under the “Layers” tab (top right).


Figure 1. The top 20th percentile of highest CalEnviroscreen 2.0 total scores are shown in the map above along with well counts by census tract.  Increasing well counts are portrayed with orange circles that increase in size with the number of wells. Click here to explore.

Figures 2-7 below are provide printable examples of several of CalEnviroscreen’s 2.0’s most important rankings when considering O&G extraction activity.

Figure 2. CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the most pollution burden from various sources. The census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells.

Figure 2. CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the most pollution burden from various sources in all of California. The census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas (O&G) wells.

Figure 3. Focuses on the Greater Los Angeles Basin, and shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the most pollution burden from various sources.  The census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells. The map shows that many of the areas most impacted by existing pollution also host much of the oil and gas extraction activity.

Figure 3. Focus on the Greater Los Angeles Basin. Shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the most pollution burden from various sources. Census tract scores are overlaid with active O&G wells. Many of the areas most impacted by existing pollution also host much of the O&G extraction activity.

Figure 4. Focus on Los Angeles County, with some of the highest ranking scores for Ozone pollution.  As shown in the map, these areas also host and are surrounded by many oil/gas wells.

Figure 4. Focus on Los Angeles County, with some of the highest ranking scores for Ozone pollution. These areas also host and are surrounded by many oil/gas wells.

Figure 5. Focus on the Greater Los Angeles Basin. Shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.  The census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells.  The map shows that many of the areas most impacted by PM2.5 also host much of the oil and gas extraction activity.

Figure 5. Focus on the Greater Los Angeles Basin. Shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution. Census tract scores are overlaid with active O&G wells. Many of the areas most impacted by PM2.5 also host much of the O&G extraction activity.

Figure 6. Focus on Kern County in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.  The census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells.  The map shows that many of the areas most impacted by PM2.5 also host much of the oil and gas extraction activity.

Figure 6. Focus on Kern County in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Shows the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution. Census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells. Many of the areas most impacted by PM2.5 also host much of the O&G extraction activity.

Figure 7. Focuses on the areas of Kern County with the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from ambient ozone pollution. Census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells.  The map shows that many of the areas most impacted by ozone also host much of the oil and gas extraction activity.

Figure 7. Focuses on the areas of Kern County with the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 highest 20th percentile of census tracts with the worst air quality impacts resulting from ambient ozone pollution. Census tract scores are overlaid with active oil and gas wells. Many of the areas most impacted by ozone also host much of the O&G extraction activity.

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