Living on Earth: Massive Natural Gas Disaster Hits Los Angeles

Since October, a leaking underground natural gas storage facility near Los Angeles has released vast amounts of methane, its main ingredient, into the atmosphere, becoming one of the nation’s worst environmental accidents, as methane starts off 100 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Host Steve Curwood and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer at Cornell University discuss the blowout, including. Professor Ingraffea’s belief that this disaster may be a harbinger of what’s ahead for these aging storage facilities.

Source: Living on Earth: Massive Natural Gas Disaster Hits Los Angeles

Methane Leaks in Natural-Gas Supply Chain Far Exceed Estimates, Study Says – The New York Times

Methane Leaks in Natural-Gas Supply Chain Far Exceed Estimates, Study Says – The New York Times.

Climate Change Reports | Office of Inspector General | U.S. EPA

Climate Change Reports | Office of Inspector General | U.S. EPA.


Notes from Bruce Ferguson

  1. The IG assigns a GWP of 25 (over a 100 year time period) to methane, which is more than the figure of 21, which EPA has used in the past, but still well below the figure of 34 used by the IPCC.

2. Everything in the IG report couched in terms of the 100-year time period; the critical 20-year time period is (once again) ignored by EPA.

  1. Reading the  report it’s apparent that converting to the 20-year time period (and using a GWP of 86 instead of 25) would not only provide a sound basis for setting energy policy, but would also trigger regulatory actions. How many more local distribution companies would have to obtain CAA Title V operating permits and/or PSD’s if methane was assigned a GWP potential of 86?

 No Local Distribution Companies Have Obtained GHG Permits From EPA

No local distribution companies (LDCs) have obtained GHG permits from the EPA. In general, any facility with potential to emit 100,000 tons per year (tpy) or more of GHG (measured on a CO2e basis) must obtain a CAA Title V operating permit. Additionally, new facilities with the potential to emit 100,000 tpy or more of GHGs (measured on a CO2e basis)—and greater than or equal to the applicable major source threshold (i.e., 100 or 250 tpy, depending on the source category) on a mass basis—must generally obtain a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permit before it can commence construction.Also, existing facilities that plan to undertake modifications that substantially increase their potential to emit GHG’s may also be required to obtain a PSD permit for GHG emissions before they can make the modifications.15

  1. Fugitive emissions are ignored by EPA.

 Thirty-six LDCs reported more than 100,000 tpy of methane emissions to the EPA in 2011.However, none of these companies has obtained a GHG permit. In our view, this is likely due to the fact that methane emissions from distribution pipelines are generally “fugitive” emissions resulting from leaks. Under current EPA policy, fugitive emissions from these facilities are not counted toward the thresholds for determining whether a source is subject to GHG permitting provisions, except for major modifications at sources under PSD requirements per the EPA’s 2013 permitting guidance that cites CAA Section 302(j) and relevant regulatory provisions.16

 15 EPA provides a thorough discussion of the various GHG permitting requirements in PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases (March 2011), at

16 Counting GHG Fugitive Emissions in Permitting Applicability (December 12, 2013); EPA guidance document addressing questions about GHG permitting at

             5. And there’s this:

 EPA Has Not Partnered With PHMSA to Control Methane Leaks

 Historically, PHMSA has regulated LDCs’ pipeline infrastructure with a public safety focus rather than an environmental protection focus.17 PHMSA’s regulations were not designed to mitigate the environmental impacts of leaks. PHMSA requires LDCs to repair or replace leaking pipelines that:. . . represent an existing or probable hazard to persons or property and requires immediate repair or continuous action until the conditions are no longer hazardous.PHMSA regulations leave the repair of non-hazardous leaks to the discretion of the LDC.

According to the Executive Director of BlueGreen Alliance,18 when LDCs discover a leak, they may vent the leak to the atmosphere instead of repairing it if the leak is not a safety hazard. An LDC may also vent a hazardous leak to reduce the safety threat of the leak, thus reducing its explosive potential and downgrading its hazard rating. If a state does not adopt initiatives to enforce the repair of persistent, non-hazardous leaks, the LDC can potentially allow a non-hazardous leak to vent to the atmosphere in perpetuity.

The EPA has not partnered with PHMSA to address leaks from a combined safety and environmental standpoint. EPA staff told us that they do not have a formal partnership with PHMSA, and PHMSA last participated in an EPA Natural Gas STAR workshop in 2009. The lack of coordinated action between the EPA and PHMSA hinders an effective partnership where PHMSA’s technology and regulations could be used to produce additional environmental benefits. The EPA has the opportunity to partner with PHMSA in implementing the 2014 interagency methane strategy.