The political burlesque of Trump vs. Fox vs. Cruz vs. common sense and thoughtful approaches to the world’s problems continues to paper over an issue that deserves far more coverage than it’s getting.
My adult son first asked me about the status of the California environmental juggernaut that has generational implications. I recalled hearing some snippets of the story some months ago, but since then it has been on a virtual media hiatus.
“It” is a natural gas leak in a South California Gas Company storage facility that was discovered a thousand or so feet deep in the Aliso Canyon Porter Ranch neighborhood about a half-hour drive from LA. The leak dates back to October 23, 2015, over 4 months ago.
The Environmental Defense Fund estimates total leakage of methane at well over 90,000 metric tons by the time you read this. Methane is an insult to the environment with a carbon dioxide by-product, currently measured by EDF at 7,500 metric tons and counting. Here’s where you can follow the quantities in real time as EDF is keeping a running tally of the leaks.
Nearly 1,000 area suburban families had to temporarily relocate according to a Los Angeles Time’s Internet story and major lawsuits are surely in the offing. An FAA no-fly zone was also temporarily established in the general area of the San Fernando Valley. The leak occurred in a pipe casing in a SoCal storage facility that reaches over 8,500 feet below the surface.
Environmental scientists are calling it the worst environmental disaster since the infamous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. You undoubtedly remember the oil rig exploding, claiming 11 lives. For 87 days oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, causing incalculable damage, destroying fishing, habitats, wildlife, businesses, and laying waste to critical waters of several states.
Federal investigations revealed that cost-cutting measures and compromised safety led directly to the explosion. BP was fined around 5½ billion, but not to worry, no wealthy executives were harmed (jailed) in the making of this horrific act. An act that will undoubtedly run into trillions in loses over the next few generations. But those careless executives at fault remain free. Jail is for poor minority kids who steal a six-pack of beer, not for pale corporate killers and planet destroyers.
Here’s the interesting part as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In addition to multiple billions in damage payments, BP paid $18.7 billion to settle all Deepwater Horizon claims. The oil giant also agreed to buy itself immunity from criminal prosecution with a vulgar $4 billion “deal” to settle the feds criminal probe, an outgrowth of the explosion and subsequent damages. Uncle Sam on the take!
We’ve got another Deepwater Horizon on our hands. Natural gas, not oil. A less dramatic leak that has an added artificial odor that stinks to the high heavens but not a deadly explosion, though the possibility definitely exists. These BP and SoCal events are essentially the same thing with the same genesis; greed, indifference to safety, few enforced regulations, laziness and incompetent public officials.
The reason this story isn’t being heavily covered is economic. Natural gas is embedded as a relatively cheap alternate energy source to oil. I’ve never been a fan of natural gas. Its use is widespread. The death and injury numbers aren’t that dramatic. A few years ago, CBS News reported about one “incident” every other day. At the time of the story a mere 10 people had been killed and 50 injured with about $32 million in property damage.
Your chances of dying in a car accident or getting shot are infinitely higher. So, what’s the big deal? Well, first of all, if you have a gas home, it’s like sitting on a bomb. And if the damn stuff explodes, houses can be leveled at a finger snap. An additional 170 Americans expire from Carbon Monoxide, natural gas being one of several sources via such items as gas furnaces and ranges.
One of the worst explosions involving natural gas sent a fireball over 1,000 feet into the air and killed 8 people in September of 2010. All of this as a result of a 30-inch pipeline blowing up in San Bruno, California. Unfortunately, the owner of the pipeline, Pacific Gas and Electric co. had failed to follow up on an advisory spelling out the proper test for failed seams that were ultimately blamed for the tragedy.
As for the Aliso Canyon leak, the effect on the environment can be profound. Methane is a greenhouse super gas with 84 times carbon dioxide in the early decades according to a climate scientist at EDF. Currently environmental levels are relatively low, but the potentially lengthy presence in the atmosphere make its potentially harmful effects hard to measure. Given the current state of climate change, the timing of the leak could not have been worse.
The solution to the problem in natural gas underground storage units is first and foremost additional regulatory oversight. That could have saved a whole lot of grief in the Aliso Canyon area. Don’t hold your breath as an effective fix would likely increase electricity rates. Republican legislators have already poisoned any such increases, no matter the consequences.
Our right-wing Congress has carved out yet another harmful niche in bowing to any and all corporate pressure.