This Week In Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions – Aug. 13, 2012Aug 14th, 2012 | By fjgallagher | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Leaks
Usually, it’s the natural gas explosions that get all the attention, probably because an incident of sudden, massive destruction has a way of grabbing one’s attention. But we cannot ignore the damage done by natural gas leaks; indeed, in the long term, they may well prove more harmful than all the natural gas explosions put together.
That’s because natural gas is really nothing more than a euphemism for methane – indeed, the methane molecule is the logo for this site – and methane is anywhere from 25 to 100 times more destructive to our atmosphere than CO2.
Finally, it seems, people are starting to understand that fact, and all the ramifications that are packed into it. On Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, New Jersey Star-Ledger reporter Eliot Caroom wrote a story documenting how and why this burgeoning realization that methane – and everything that goes along with it: the fracking, the leaky pipelines, the “fugitive emissions,” ect. – may not live up to its industry billing is starting to get some traction.
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From the Star-Ledger story:
That is changing now as methane makes headlines because of new numbers showing more leakage than previously thought from natural gas wells and pipelines. Some critics say natural gas is a worse climate-change polluter than coal. That’s hotly disputed by energy companies.
“Methane, especially from the natural gas industry, has come much more to the fore very recently, since early 2011,” said Vignesh Gowrishankar, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
One reason for the sudden attention: Last year, the EPA revised years of data to show that the leading source of methane emissions nationally wasn’t livestock flatulence — it was natural gas production.
According to a recent story that aired on a San Francisco Bay Area NBC-TV affiliate, natural gas leaks still plague PG&E’s pipeline system there.
A massive natural gas explosion killed eight people and destroyed an entire neighborhood in San Bruno, California, in September 2010. Following the blast at the pipeline owned and operated by PG&E, the company could not produce records relating to pipeline safety throughout the company’s entire network of natural gas pipelines.
PG&E continues to be subject to federal and state inquiries about the safety of its natural gas pipelines.
From the NBC story:
State regulatory records show PG&E has identified 51,229 active leaks as of October 2011. Federal data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration—the body that regulates gas distribution—shows PG&E leads all the nation’s utility companies in the number of known leaks. According to the database, there were 12,233 known leaks in 2010.
Meanwhile, down in Louisiana, a massive sinkhole has authorities there worried that leaking pipelines could trigger a massive explosion larger than the nuclear blast that destroyed Hiroshima during WWII. The sinkhole opened on Aug. 3, 2012, in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. As a result, authorities shut down a portion of I-70 and ordered an immediate evacuation of the surrounding area. The interstate has since re-opened, but the evacuation order remains in place.
Authorities remain particularly concerned about the proximity of a nearby well, located about 1,500 feet from the sinkhole, which is filled with butane, a volatile and extremely explosive liquid.
A possible breach of a butane-filled well 1500 feet from Bayou Corne’s sinkhole, the size of three football fields, is so “very serious,” it has Assumption Parish sheriff and local residents ordered to evacuate worried about a catastrophic explosion, one according to scientists in an Examiner investigation, would be in the range of one and a half B83 thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs, the most powerful United States weapons in active service.
Of course, the astonishingly routine parade of natural gas leaks continued around the country as well – in Minnesota, California and Buffalo, New York, to name just a few – but we have neither time nor space to document them all here.
And we’ll get back to documenting the ongoing devastation wrought by natural gas explosions, which occur with stunning regularity, in the next installment of This Week In Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions.