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After the mammoth methane gas leak that spewed uncontrollably from a damaged well in California’s Aliso Canyon was finally capped last week, residents of nearby Porter Ranch began trepidatiously returning to their homes. Lingering doubts over whether Southern California Gas Company will continue using the underground storage field have left many wondering if concerns for their safety are being considered at all—particularly considering the company has, so far, only been charged with misdemeanor violations.
All told, the Aliso Canyon leak thrust an estimated 96,000 metric tons of potent methane—not to mention benzene, nitrogen oxides and other noxious substances—into the atmosphere over a period of months. So vast was the impact of the leak, it has been likened in impactful scope to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
California, however, isn’t the only state dealing with mammoth methane leakage.
Texas is dealing with a comparable disaster that has been overlooked by officials and the media, in part, because the state’s methane emanates from a powerful industry’s infrastructure. According to the Texas Observer’s Naveena Sadasivam:
“Every hour, natural gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale region emit thousands of tons of methane—a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and a slate of noxious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and benzene.
“The Aliso Canyon leak was big. The Barnett leaks, combined, are even bigger.”
At its peak, the SoCal Gas leak emitted 58,000 kilograms of methane per hour. By comparison, researchers with universities in Colorado and Michigan, partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, estimate around 60,000 kilograms are spewed every hour by more than 25,000 natural gas wells in operation on the Barnett Shale—with the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex at the center. This amounts to around 544,000 tons of methane every year. But contrary to the magnitude of the Aliso Canyon event, emissions caused by oil and gas extraction from the Barnett Shale—and a second large formation, Eagle Ford Shale—won’t cease as long as hydraulic fracturing remains the boon it has been to the fossil fuel industry.
An eight-month long study of Eagle Ford by the Center for Public Integrity, Weather Channel and InsideClimate News found “a system that does more to protect the industry than the public.”
Due to a scarcity of air quality monitoring stations, with only five permanent monitors to cover Eagle Ford’s nearly 20,000 square miles, state officials simply don’t know the extent of pollutants in the air. Many facilities are permitted to police themselves and aren’t required to submit those findings. Not that regulators would have an easy time enforcing a reporting mandate, as the “Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist.”
David Sterling, chair of the University of North Texas Health Science Center, told InsideClimate News, “As much as I would like to believe that industry can police itself, history has shown that that has not worked without sufficient oversight.” With TCEQ’s budget having fallen 34 percent between 2010 and 2014, it’s virtually impossible to imagine such oversight increasing in the future.
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