New EPA rules would cut methane leaks from oil and gas operations

In a move that environmental campaigners had sought for years (as had I), the Environmental Protection Agency has issued final rules that could substantially cut emissions of heat-trapping methane, smog-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants such as benzene from new, rebuilt or modified oil and gas wells and other infrastructure and operations.

The agency also took an overdue step to clarify how to curb emissions of methane from the hundreds of thousands of wells, compressors and other leaky parts of the nation’s sprawling oil and gas industry, issuing an “Information Collection Request” requiring companies, among other things, to describe the types of technologies that could be used to reduce emissions. Existing systems are the source of 90 percent of emissions, so getting moving on this front is essential; it’s also often profitable…

There’s an important regulatory gap, though — the lack of oversight of methane emissions from agriculture, particularly livestock, as pointed out…on Twitter by Emily Cassidy of the Environmental Working Group

On Twitter, Jeff Tollefson, a reporter for Nature who’s written on pollution from America’s shale boom, pointed to the Bakken oil fields as illustrating why tighter rules for existing industry facilities is vital: Bakken field alone leaks 275,000 tons of CH4 annually.

Overdue.

Thanks, @jefftollef

The company behind California’s methane disaster knew the well leaked 24 years ago

Last fall, a 7-inch injection well pipe ruptured 500 feet below the surface of Los Angeles, after ferrying natural gas for six decades. The resulting methane leak is now being called one of the largest environmental disasters since the BP oil spill, has pushed thousands of people out of their homes, and has quickly become the single biggest contributor to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in California. But it’s not the first time this well sprang a leak—and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), which owns and operates the well, knew it…

So who’s to blame for a leak that cannot be stopped? Aging natural gas equipment may have contributed. According to documents filed with the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, this particular well, referred to as Standard Sesnon 25, was originally drilled in 1953, and showed signs of leakage 24 years ago, in 1992. Inspectors reported that they could hear the leak through borehole microphones.

Gene Nelson, a professor of physical science at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California who has seen the document, said that he found it “appalling that SoCalGas did not identify this as a well to shut off,” after receiving this feedback.

There have been other problems documented at this facility before. And in 2014, inspectors at the wells documented corrosion and negative integrity trends…

Other safety issues have been pointed out recently, too. Earlier this month, The LA Times reported that attorneys representing some of the 1,000 residents suing SoCalGas over the leak claim the company failed to replace an important safety valve that was removed in 1979 — a valve that could have stopped the current leak in its tracks. The plaintiffs also allege that the company again identified leaks at the site five years ago, but never implemented plans to fix them…

So far, some 2,300 homes have voluntarily evacuated and several schools have been closed, with many residents complaining of headaches and nosebleeds from the foul-smelling chemical additives. These include radon, hydrogen sulfide, and an odorant called mercaptan, which is added to the gas both before and after it leaves the storage field.

The well, which funnels natural gas to 22 million customers in the Los Angeles Basin, is expected to take another three months to plug. O’Connor says that the disaster is a telling sign about the viability of natural gas in a country of aging infrastructure.

The methane released into the air will take about 10 years to convert to slightly less of a danger to the climate. Just one more example of crap infrastructure – private and public – crippling the economic and environmental life of our nation. Infrastructure our elected officials refuse to regulate or repair.

California natgas utility sets new record for atmospheric crud leading to climate change

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SoCalGas drilling a relief well – which may help in a couple of months!

The single biggest contributor to climate change in California is a blown-out natural gas well more than 8,700ft underground…

The broken well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site has released more than 77,000 metric tons of the powerful climate pollutant methane since the rupture was first detected on 23 October, according to a counter created by the Environmental Defense Fund…

Experts believe the breach, which has forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the town of Porter Ranch, is the largest ever in the US…

Methane is a fast-acting climate pollutant – more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame…

The leak is unlikely to be brought under control before late February – and even that timetable depends on work crews’ success in locating and plugging a 7-inch pipe deep underground…

David Clegern, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the well remained a major source of climate pollution. “It is in California at this point the single largest source point of global warming…”

He also said it was to his knowledge the biggest such natural gas leak ever

RTFA for all the gory details. The company says they’re in compliance with state regulations. I doubt the state permits crappy construction and blowouts as acceptable.

The lives of local residents are at risk. The quality of life for residents of the region – if not more – is screwed by slipshod work from a regulated utility that only considers the profits side of the corporate balance sheet important. Like most public utilities.

EPA may be way underestimating landfill emissions


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Landfills may be emitting more methane than previously reported because the Environmental Protection Agency may be drastically underestimating how much garbage is being deposited in landfills across the US, according to a new Yale University study.

Banana peels, coffee grounds, plastic bottles and other detritus tossed in the garbage usually ends up in a landfill and emits methane as it decomposes.

Methane is a greenhouse gas up to 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change over the span of a century, and landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions, according to the EPA. The Obama administration is focusing on cutting methane emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined more than 1,200 solid waste landfills, including those that are open and those that are closed and no longer accepting waste.

Using previously unavailable data from individual landfills, the study found that in 2012, about 262 million metric tonnes of waste were deposited in landfills across the country, more than double the 122 million tonnes estimated by the EPA. The agency may be underestimating the amount of waste landing in landfills because small waste disposal facilities are not required to report how much refuse they accept.

What great reasons do our politicians offer for blocking requirements to report? Anyone?

The study also found that open landfills emit 91% of all landfill methane emissions, while closed landfills are 17% more efficient than open landfills at capturing methane so it does not escape into the atmosphere…

The study’s primary goal was to learn more about the efficiency of methane capture systems at landfills, which are more effective after a landfill stops accepting new waste…

…Atmospheric physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is among the scientists who believe cutting methane should be less of a priority than cutting carbon dioxide to tackle climate change, said the study is useful in evaluating methane capture systems at landfills. But it primarily underscores that landfill gas should be used more widely as an energy source and that people should throw less in the trash, especially organic matter…

Conclusions across the board are consistent with good sense waste management. Produce less waste. Recycle and reuse where and when possible. Utilize methane produced by landfills to generate electricity or power useful machinery.

The range of solutions from the scientific side of the equation are already well known. Only Know-Nothing political barbarians dispute either the need for research or the goals.

EPA proposing rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas producers

Methane-burn
Click to enlargeRichard Hamilton Smith

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45 percent over the next decade from 2012 levels…

The regulations on methane are one part of the Obama administration’s strategy to curb greenhouse gases and combat climate change and come just two weeks after the president unveiled a sweeping rule to slash carbon emissions from the country’s power plants.

The proposal that will be unveiled on Tuesday aims to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions by up to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, a goal it first announced in January, one source said.

The rules are intended to put the United States on course to meet its pledge to the United Nations climate change talks to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025…

The U.S. boom in natural gas and oil production has raised concerns about leaks and venting of methane throughout the production process – from wells to transmission. So far, programs aimed at preventing those leaks have been voluntary.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, but when it is released into the atmosphere, it becomes a potent greenhouse gas…

Industry groups have said blah, blah, blah and requiring companies to buy that extra equipment is costly blah, blah, blah, blah

…Advocates for stricter methane rules have said capturing methane is mutually beneficial for oil and gas companies, and would save them money in the long run.

Detecting those leaks and capturing the methane with technology that is currently on the market can save companies money and help them produce oil and gas more efficiently, they say.

Honestly, the oil and gas industry is so accustomed to passing along the slightest cost to consumers you’d think they wouldn’t utter a peep over a regulation like this. Especially, since they’d be recapturing product they can sell along.

Expenses really aren’t anything special to this crew. I always recall taking a phone call from a driller in the Persian Gulf, BITD. He needed a couple hundred dollars worth of repair parts for a pile driver. Now.

He’d already ordered the parts over the phone from the warehouse of the firm I worked for and just wanted me to handle our portion of expedited delivery. I personally walked to the warehouse – put the two boxes of parts on a hand truck and wheeled them back to the front door of our office where a taxi was waiting.

I rode with them to the New Orleans International Airport where a chartered jet freighter was waiting with the door open. I set the two boxes of parts inside. The jet took off for DuBai.

Nothing else on board but those two boxes of parts.

Feds allow million$ of natural gas to be wasted by oil/gas-field managers


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Significant amounts of natural gas on federal lands are being wasted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year and adding to harmful greenhouse gas emissions, a GAO investigation has found.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also said the Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct production inspections for hundreds of high-priority oil and gas wells — roughly 1 out of 5 — to ensure full payment of royalties to the U.S.

The report…is the latest to highlight substantial gaps in oversight. An AP review of government records last May found the agency, which manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands, had been overwhelmed by a boom in a new drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The GAO report said it had been urging BLM, an agency of the Interior Department, to update guidelines for the burning or venting of natural gas since at least 2010, when it found 40 percent of it could be captured economically and sold. BLM has yet to do so, although agency officials now say they are in the process of putting together various orders and a proposed rule for comment later this year.

Until then, government investigators called BLM’s management of oil and gas “high-risk” for waste and fraud.

“The Interior Department has known for at least a decade that companies have been wasting natural gas from oil and gas wells on public lands,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “Venting and flaring natural gas from these wells hurts the environment and speeds up global warming, and it shortchanges the taxpayers.”

He joined Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, in calling on the department to redouble efforts to stem waste, rather than give “drilling companies a pass to let millions of taxpayer dollars evaporate into thin air.”…

Much of the vented gas is methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using EPA estimates, the GAO concluded that capturing the vented gas would be the equivalent of removing 3.1 million cars from the road or closing four average-sized coal-fired power plants…

Yup. BLM has one guaranteed excuse. No way any ethical human being expects any regulation of fossil fuel production to come out of Congress. That includes regulations for safety, environment and, of course, fiscal responsibility. Ignoring responsibility for the fallout from any American process generating profit is one of the areas where Congress exceeds world records for incompetence.

But, Ron Wyden makes a serious point. The role of inept has been a Romulan cloak of invisibility draped around the shoulders of federal bureaucrats for way too long. From the Bush League on through Uncle Obama’s clean-hands-approach to governance – beancounters have taken precedence over accomplishment. The kind of people who think they qualify as Olympians for their ability to jog in place have been in charge too long.

Abandoned oil wells still spewing methane into the air we breathe


Just in the first oil boom state, Pennsylvania — 200K/1 million abandoned oil wells

Some of the millions of abandoned oil and natural gas wells in the United States are still spewing methane, marking a potentially large source of unrecorded greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study released on Monday.

Researchers at Princeton University measured emissions from dozens of abandoned wells in Pennsylvania in 2013 and 2014 and found they were emitting an average of 0.27 kg (0.6 lbs) of methane per day, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These measurements show that methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells can be significant,” according to the study. “The research required to quantify these emissions nationally should be undertaken so they can be accurately described and included in greenhouse gas emissions inventories.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is mulling whether to issue mandatory standards for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as part of President Barack Obama’s broad climate action plan.

Presuming Barack Obama isn’t interned at Gitmo by the incoming Republican-dominated Congress.

Environmental groups have told the EPA that directly targeting methane rather than secondary volatile organic compounds, which the agency currently regulates, is more effective and can help the United States make steeper greenhouse gas emission cuts.

The history of extractive industries – whether mining or well-drilling – is one of the worst serial crimewaves in the United States. Between abandoned mines, wells ignored because their production of crap hydrocarbons isn’t sufficiently profitable – it is a tale of poisonous dangers left to rot.

If North Dakota oil wells had a mirror image aboveground…

ND oil in the air
…This is what it would look like — Click to enlarge

More than 11,000 oil wells have been drilled in North Dakota since 2006, covering the state’s agricultural landscape. In all, almost 40,000 miles of well bores have been drilled underground to connect the fracking operations to surface wells. Laid end to end, they would circle the Earth about one and a half times.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a monthslong investigation by Deborah Sontag and Robert Gebeloff into North Dakota’s conflicted relationship with its booming oil industry. In the process of reporting that article, we obtained the locations of every oil drilling line of every well in the state.

The precise depths and directions of these remain out of sight for a very obvious reason: The drilling lines are underground. Here, we change that.

The illustrations shown here are accurate in every respect except one: We changed the vertical direction of each oil well bore to go above ground instead of below it. Otherwise, every bore line is shown precisely how it’s described by North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy over lowered gasoline prices we’re all getting to enjoy. Why worry about air pollution when you can get in your car and drive to every sale in every brick-and-mortar store in your county over the weekend?

However – given my personal experience working for some of these profit-hungry creeps now awash in dollars as much as they are in oil – I could drive you into North Dakota blindfolded. And with the windows open in my pickup, you could tell when we were entering that oil field by the smell of what used to be clean air.

Did you ever realize how bad a comet smells?

Researchers describe the scent coming off 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as reminiscent of rotten eggs and a horse stable.

They had outfitted Rosetta with a sort of artificial nose — an instrument called ROSINA — that can analyze gas vapors and replicate smell. Among other trace chemicals, Chury offers a powerful punch of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

The strong presence of rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide) and horse stable (ammonia) smells are accented by notes of alcohol (methane) and vinegar (sulfur dioxide). In case that wasn’t gross enough, the hyrdogen cyanide and carbon disulfide offer a hint of sugared almonds.

Researchers say it’s the first time they’ve really gotten a good whiff of a comet.

“We’ve never been that close to a comet,” Kathrin Altwegg, the researcher who manages the ROSINA instrument from a lab at the University of Bern in Switzerland…

The comet — which Rosetta tried to anchor to with the exploratory craft called Philae — is 250 million miles from the sun. But it’s getting closer. And that’s bad news for astronomers with a weak stomach.

“The closer the comet gets to the sun, the more of its ice will evaporate, and the gas emissions will get more intense,” Altwegg explained to Deutsche Welle.

Sounds like the next time Earthlings sneak up on a comet and land on it to research its composition – we might include a little gas-powered engine in addition to solar panels to power the research vehicle. Something that runs on horse farts.

[Adapted from an article published just before Philae landed on 67P]

New Mexico is Ground Zero for methane contaminating our air

One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan…

In each of the seven years studied from 2003-2009, the area released about 0.59 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. This is almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

…Researchers used observations made by the European Space Agency’s…SCIAMACHY instrument. SCIAMACHY measured greenhouse gases from 2002 to 2012. The atmospheric hot spot persisted throughout the study period. A ground station…operated by…Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided independent validation of the measurement…

Research scientist Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, first noticed the Four Corners signal years ago in SCIAMACHY data…

The study’s lead author, Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the study period predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, near the hot spot. This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking but instead to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” Kort said. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole…”

Phew! Where do we start?

The study includes time spent with Governor Bill the Democrat and Governor Susana the Republican. Both played kissy-kissy with our oil and gas industry. Sure, different levels of public blather; but, when push comes to shove, neither did a damned thing about oversight or regulation.

We shouldn’t be waiting for a Euro satellite or the coneheads up on the Hill to be telling us the air we breathe is being polluted. Everyone in the Four Corners knows it. Polluters, whether from the PNM power plants to gas and oil producers know it. They don’t care. And We The People – haven’t much of any elected officials really interested in acting on our behalf.

What could we have done? What can we do, now? How about a Green Party that actually tries to build political power instead of trotting out Ralph Nader every four years to tell us we’re screwed? Anyone concerned about quality of life already knows that. The rest of the population wallows in ignorance and ain’t reading Mother Jones. Most of our elected officials only respond to money and vested interests forking it over.

It’s time to stop the electoral posturing, put an end to political masturbation. That only perpetuates the absolute failure of any Green Party in the GOUSA. Our sister and brothers around the world enjoy our dissertations – and chuckle at how useless American environmentalists are at getting things done.

Aside from the Walt Disney theory of history which relies on electing a hero at the top – proven false most recently by the flop named Obama – reliance on the purportedly liberal wing of the two political parties we think is all we’re allowed is the broader example of being co-opted. Democrats respond to enviro fervor by saying, “Right on, y’all — vote for us and we’ll carry your banner to victory!” And then do nothing. Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition.

Nope. With continued polarization in this country – even if it’s based on the ignorance of perception – small victories, grassroots strength where possible, can provide the political power to make an independent difference. A Progressive swing vote in a gridlocked state legislature means a helluva lot more than buying TV time for this year’s self-chosen mellowed-out 60’s radical.

There are any number of city councils, state legislatures and eventually the bowels of Congress where program-based electoral campaigns can win the small victories which enable ecology gadflies to ally with other minorities to make a difference in how this state and this nation are run. And that includes the basic responsibility for oversight and regulation that restores our environment for future generations.