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Schools were closed and thousands evacuated from homes, escaping a 2.5 million pound per day methane leak. This leak near Aliso Canyon in the Los Angeles area is from a natural gas storage tank owned by the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra subsidiary. After months, the utility giant, has been unable to seal the leak.
Because natural gas is at least 85 percent methane, this article discusses the methane danger. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that traps about 25 times the heat of CO2 over the lifetime of the gas in the atmosphere. The Aliso Canyon leak is likely to add over 2 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Details at Climate Progress.
There are about 340 similar methane storage facilities in California and 420 in the United States. Many facilities use former oil fields that once pumped oil out and now pump methane into caverns that can leak. Science Friday video interview of Rob Jackson.
Globally, we have a serious problem of methane leaks from storage tanks, pipelines in our cities, oil drilling, cattle, industrial agriculture, and landfills. Also, over $1 trillion has been spent on fracking for natural gas, Canadian tar sands, and for oil shale drilling, also sources of methane leaks.
Three percent well-to-wheels methane leakage is estimated by EDF for natural gas used to generate power, well above the threshold 1.6 percent to reduce greenhouse gas impacts lower than the coal power alternative.
Methane leaks are being discovered all over the planet, making the Paris Climate Treaty’s goal of limiting Earth’s warming to 2.0 degrees C nearly impossible to achieve.
Should we burn coal or natural gas?
Energy efficiency and renewable energy make this a false choice. Efficiency, solar and wind power are used at record levels. We don’t need either coal or natural gas. The U.S. is at a thirty-year low in coal use. Many methane fracking operations have ceased.
A few years ago, many felt that replacing old coal power plants with natural gas plants would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Methane was seen as a “bridge fuel” to clean energy.
Methane plants, if there are no leaks, produce about half the GHG of coal plants. No leaks is a big “if.” It has been a challenge to measure the total methane emissions (EDF Summary of 100 academic researchers). Now that we can better measure the methane leaks from fracking to storage to pipelines to power plants, replacing coal with natural gas appears to be accelerating destructive climate change.
How we can and must reduce methane emissions.
- Methane is primarily used in power plants to generate electricity. Demand is being mitigated by energy efficiency, green and zero-net-energy buildings, wind and solar power.
- Demand response: load shifts when pricing electricity low during off-peak and high during peak, resulting in fewer power plants.
- European countries dependant on Russian natural gas need energy efficiency to move beyond Putin’s continued threats to turn off their gas supply.
- From fracking to pipeline delivery to storage to use, methane leaks need to be monitored. A carbon price needs to be paid for all leaks.
- Many leaks can be prevented. For example, when properly completed and managed, fracking appears to be feasible with low methane emissions. When money is saved, or short cuts taken, major leakage can occur. Industry self-reporting to the EPA has been shown to be dramatically low compared to actual measurement samples.
- All-electric homes and buildings are part of the solution and use no methane for hot water, building heating and cooking.
- Utilities are starting to replace their inefficient peaker methane plants with solar plus storage. For example, Southern California Edison (SCE), totally unrelated to the Sempra utility with the Aliso Hills disaster, is deploying several forms of large scale storage which can dispatch stored electricity during peak demand, just as a gas peaker would be used.
- There are about 20 million natural gas (NG) vehicles on the road globally. Navigant Research expects 35 million NG vehicles to be sold from 2015 to 2025, many because of government regulations and incentives. It would be better if people drove efficient hybrid or electric cars; still better if we rode on hybrid diesel buses; much better if we used electric transit and rail.
We must leapfrog natural gas power plants with wind and solar power. The good news is that we have the cost-effective technology to do it. Solar, wind, and energy storage technologies are replacing aged fossil-fuel power plants. The cost of solar, wind and storage are rapidly falling. 100 percent Clean Energy Roadmap for 139 Countries (61-page PDF)
There is nothing “natural” about gas. It is primarily methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Methane is being made obsolete by efficiency, renewable energy and storage. We can leapfrog from gas guzzlers to electric transportation and from coal power to wind and solar power.
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In my business, we’d rather not be right. What gets a climate change expert out of bed in the morning is the desire to provide decision-makers with the best available science, and at the end of the day we go to bed hoping things won’t actually get as bad as our science tells us. That’s true whether you’re a physical or a social scientist.
Well, I’m one of the latter and Meeting of the Minds thought it would be valuable to republish an article I penned in January 2020. In that ancient past, only the most studious of news observers had heard of a virus in Wuhan, China, that was causing a lethal disease. Two months later we were in lockdown, all over the world, and while things have improved a lot in the US since November 2020, in many cities and nations around the world this is not the case. India is living through a COVID nightmare of untold proportions as we speak, and many nations have gone through wave after wave of this pandemic. The end is not in sight. It is not over. Not by a longshot.
And while the pandemic is raging, sea level continues to rise, heatwaves are killing people in one hemisphere or the other, droughts have devastated farmers, floods sent people fleeing to disaster shelters that are not the save havens we once thought them to be, wildfires consumed forests and all too many homes, and emissions dipped temporarily only to shoot up again as we try to go “back to normal.”
So, I’ll say another one of those things I wish I’ll be wrong about, but probably won’t: there is no “back to normal.” Not with climate change in an interdependent world.
I caught up with Steph Stoppenhagen from Black & Veatch the other day about their work on critical infrastructure in Las Vegas. In particular, we talked about the new Bleutech Park project which touts itself as an eco-entertainment park. They are deploying new technologies and materials to integrate water, energy, mobility, housing, and climate-smart solutions as they anticipate full-time residents and park visitors. Hear more from Steph about this new $7.5B high-tech biome in the desert.
Planning for new, shared modes of transit that will rival private vehicles in access and convenience requires a paradigm shift in the planning process. Rather than using traditional methods, we need to capture individual behavior while interacting with the systems in questions. An increasing number of studies show that combining agent-based simulation with activity-based travel demand modeling is a good approach. This approach creates a digital twin of the population of the city, with similar characteristics as their real-world counterparts. These synthetic individuals have activities to perform through the course of the day, and need to make mobility decisions to travel between activity locations. The entire transportation infrastructure of the city is replicated on a virtual platform that simulates real life scenarios. If individual behavior and the governing laws of the digital reality are accurately reproduced, large-scale mobility demand emerges from the bottom-up, reflecting the real-world incidences.