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Damage Report: LA Methane Leak Is One of the Worst Disasters In US History ( 240

MikeChino writes: A week after the ruptured natural gas well in Aliso Canyon was finally declared sealed, we have a full account of the damage — and it doesn't look good. In total, 97,100 metric tons of methane were released into the atmosphere over the course of 112 days — the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of over half a million cars.
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Damage Report: LA Methane Leak Is One of the Worst Disasters In US History

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  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:26PM (#51588541)
    It used to happen all the time but we are worrying more about uncapped wells now. So while a bit of a disaster, avoidable and not a good thing to happen at all I don't think it deserves the hype.
    • Yes, I can see that it's not something you want to happen but no lives were lost and it doesn't directly threaten anyone or even any property unlike oil spills. So I have a hard time thinking of this as one of the worst disasters of all time.
    • Now that I think of it, consider all those coal seam gas and shale gas projects where the well is drilled sometimes many months before the infrastructure to collect the gas (which often comes up full of water). There's a lot of stuff flaring off or even just getting vented.
    • Vented (vs burned) methane gas was probably 1000 times this amount every day for the overseas oil industry alone, during the 1960s and 70s. Coal and natural sources even more.
    • Or maybe we should have been paying more attention and hyping it up when it "used to happen all the time" to avoid all the new leaks that have happened since then. The problem here is that SoCalGas had all that information on potential leaks but this happened anyway. At some point someone needs to be held accountable to stop lax safety measures, hence the hype is very useful.

    • It's only a 'disaster' because there are million dollar homes right below where it was leaking. Who buys a million dollar home in the middle of a fucking oil field? People who think the odor of mercaptan heralds the end times, apparently. If this leak had happened out in Palmdale or some place less affluent, I guarantee it wouldn't have hit the news after the first week. Sure it's a bit of an ecological mess, but the people who did the most bitching around here did it because it smelled bad and made them sa
  • everything is that...One Of.
  • Is that a lot? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:31PM (#51588585)

    the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of over half a million cars.

    Is half a million cars a lot in a nation that has over 230 million cars on the road? LA County alone has over 7 million cars and trucks registered.

    Having more cars than licensed drivers in the USA sounds like more of an environmental disaster... and worse yet, China already has more drivers than the entire population of the USA, and the numbers are still climbing.

    • who said, (channeling a deep Southern-Illinois accent) "A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon it runs into real money."

      Yeah, a gas leak in L.A., one in New Jersey, a couple in New Orleans, and pretty soon you have some serious environmental impact.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's a question of cost vs. benefit. 7 million individual drivers are getting some value from driving and emitting greenhouse gasses. This well is just spewing the stuff into the atmosphere with no benefit to anyone at all.

      • Yes but this isn't even a disaster, even in purely environmental terms, much less one of the greatest in US history.

        It's like a ship tearing up a few hundred yards of coral reef. Actually even that overstates it considerably.

        No one died. There is no noticable difference in the environment except temporarily and locally, as a hazard.

        From an environmentalist's point of view, this is just boy who cried wolf hyperbole that makes a real disaster less likely to be cared about.

    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )
      The number of registered cars doesn't mean that's the number of cars actively driven as a primary car. Think Jay Leno, for instance...he's only driving one of those things at a time. There are only 322m people in the US, a large chunk of that are people who can't drive due to age or physical disabilities. Then remove the 2.4m in prison. Then a large chunk of the remainder are people who can't because of access or affordability. Take Manhattan, for instance - of the 100 or so decently well off people I
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:32PM (#51588599)

    Worst disasters in US history? Bull Shit.

    How many died? How much property damage?

    This doesn't even rank in the top thousand by any objective measure.

    Every last bit of that methane was due to be burned. It was at the last step before retail use. You only get to count the extra from being unburned and if this was really such a fucking disaster it could have been flared.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:32PM (#51588601) Journal
    Welll, []that sucks for sure, but it's a rounding error in annual methane emission calculations.
  • Please see here... []

    Even discounting the deathtoll component the rebuilding costs in environmental terms would far exceed the environmental impact of this methane leak. Stupid.

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:36PM (#51588631)
    When I first heard about it last Nov/Dec, my first few thoughts where "wow, that's a lot of gas". "They don't plan to cap it for 6 months? wtf?". "Dang, must be costing them a lot of money to relocate all those households", and "dang, the company just doesn't seem to care".
    Then the media picked up on it, and suddenly the company decided "uh oh, this is really bad PR for us we better fix it".
    Kinda eye-opening how they didn't really give a shit until the media picked it up. That's a lot of lost gas, and a lot of affected people, and a ton of bad PR.
    • by jhol13 ( 1087781 )

      I do not think this particular disaster is that bad. Worse is the fact that there are huge amount of similar "we don't give a shit" disasters waiting to happen in every industry. It will continue as long as there are no persons responsible to fix those - company can always pay a fine.

    • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:54PM (#51588741)

      But this did take action. They started draining the reservoir straight away. This reduced the loss rate and the pressure behind the leak which then gave them the ability to cap it. It really isn't that easy to do. As for the size of the leak the total loss is equivalent to around 5 Billion cubic feet (that is the normal measurement not tonnes), this compares to a US production rate of around 2,400 billion cubic feet per month.

      It is still the worst methane leak in american history but it is far from as bad as some are making out.

      Have a read of this - []


    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday February 26, 2016 @04:15AM (#51589991)
      No they didn't sit around for 6 months twiddling their thumbs. This leak and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill weren't like a leaky pipe under your kitchen sink. Poke a straw into a kid's juice box, then sit on the box. The juice will squirt out the straw. Now imagine 1.5 miles of dirt sitting on top of the box (or in the Deepwater Horizons spill, 2.5 miles of dirt + a mile of water). That's the amount of pressure you're trying to counteract. Any cap you try to put on from the top (at the end of the straw) is pretty much guaranteed to be blown off, destroying the top of the straw in the process. (Which is what happened with this gas leak. They made 7 attempts to cap it from the top, and all they managed to do was create a 25 ft crater.) .

      The only sure way to fix it is to drill a relief well which intercepts the leaking well (straw) deep underground (a challenging engineering feat in itself), and cap it from below by injecting concrete. The concrete gets carried up by the outflowing fluid, but the weight of the concrete column (plug) extending up to the surface is what counteracts the pressure. Eventually there's enough pressure from the concrete column that the escaping fluid is at atmospheric pressure at the top, and the outflow ceases. You've plugged the leak. The problem being drilling a relief well takes time, more than drilling a normal well since you need to stop every so often, pull everything out, send instruments down, and take measurements to make sure you're still on track to intercept the leaking well. And you want to drill several relief wells so if the first one misses you're not starting over from scratch.

      Incidentally, SoCal Gas petitioned to light the methane on fire. Burning methane (CH4) produces CO2 and 2 H2O. But each molecule of methane is about 30x more potent as a greenhouse gas than each molecule of CO2, so you're actually reducing the environmental damage considerably by burning the methane. Oil wells and refineries regularly burn off the methane that percolates out because until a few years ago when oil (energy) prices skyrocketed to $100/bbl, it wasn't worth the cost to capture it. California state regulators denied their request, worried the fire could get out of control.

      Please understand, I'm not trying to give SoCal Gas a free pass here. They removed the surface safety valve on the well because it was leaking, and didn't bother replacing it because it wasn't near anything important. Best guess right now is the casing or a valve further down failed due to age. So the cause is probably failure to maintain the well and equipment.
    • Not trying to be a smart ass, really but: how exactly is this "surprising"?

  • Big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @09:49PM (#51588713) Journal
    Coal Oil Point [] off of Santa Barbara, a NATURAL methane/oil seep, leaks 40 tons per day. Been doing it for hundreds of years. And will continue doing so. And that's just one natural seep in California - there are hundreds of them off-shore.
  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @10:13PM (#51588835)
    This is not only not the worst disaster in US history, it's not ever in the top 25.
  • But things are always bigger in Texas []. The L.A. leak gets more attention for its location

    • Well, that and it depends on how quiet the company responsible can keep the local government and media. Given how subservient Texas tends to be towards petrochemical companies, I'm not surprised they've managed to keep it on the down low.

  • So, how many non conforming TDI golf does this equal ? For all those tortured at the State Inspection Station for a non OE air cleaner, what does this equal ?
  • Let's hope future "worst disasters" are as benign as that.
  • Where's the beef? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wherrera ( 235520 ) on Thursday February 25, 2016 @11:09PM (#51589097) Journal

    I'd suspect there is more methane released by the cattle on the ranches of the US West in a month than was released by this background noise blip of a "disaster".

    • So we shouldn't worry about methane leaks because cow farts are worse?
    • Would you dare try to substantiate your suspicions? Or is this just an idle dismissal?

      • Why not use google and a calculator yourself? Anyway,

        see here for counts: []

        Biggest cow states: Texas and Nebraska.

        Cattle in Texas plus cattle in Nebraska: 11,700,000 + 6,250,000 = 17,950,000
        Methane output per year per cow per Google: about 95 kg per year, or 8 kg per month

        Therefore, Texas plus Nebraska cattle make about 143,600,000 kg = 143,000 metric tons of methane per month. And there are a lot more cattle in other Western states.

        The spill was of 98,000 tons, or 98,000,00

  • Using the CO2 car data from here: [] and the CO2 to methane values here: [] I get either 1.9M cars (20yr time horizon) or around 750K cars (100yr time horizon)
  • Worse than, say, the 1900 Galveston hurricane, in which over 6000 died? Worse than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in which over 3000 died? Worse than the 2001 NY Trade Center in which 3000 died? Or the dozen other disasters in which 1000 or more died? How many people died because of this?

    • Re:Worst disaster? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by h33t l4x0r ( 4107715 ) on Friday February 26, 2016 @02:37AM (#51589749)
      We won't know for a while. We'll have to wait for the final death count that can be attributed to climate change and then do some regression analysis. That's assuming of course that humanity survives.
      • This incident's contribution to climate change was meager. Even if climate change proves everything we fear (and I do believe in climate change, although I believe the full impact is still uncertain), this still isn't much of disaster. Proponents of climate change do themselves no favors with this sort of idiocy.

      • We don't have to wait that long. We can plug it into a model and say that, because of the model, another 1 billion people will die in the next 30 years. So give more money or something like that...
  • by thisisauniqueid ( 825395 ) on Friday February 26, 2016 @03:30AM (#51589861)
    "One of the worst disasters in US history"? Cows and other livestock release 238 million metric tons of methane per year [source] []. The estimated 97,100 metric tons from this leak amounts to a whopping 0.04% of that amount.
  • So it's a 1.5% increase in methane emissions from leaks this year. This amount have been decreased by 15% in the last decade so we basically lost a few months of progress. sucks but not even close to a disaster.

  • I thought it was this one: []

  • Transportation is a small contributor to methane emissions. A better perspective is total anthropogenic methane emissions in the US... for 2014, this was about 28.3 million metric tons (MMT). So this leak was about 0.3% of that. For another comparison, manure management contributes about 2.4 MMT annually, and agriculture overall accounts for 10MMT.
    (, Table 2-12, Sum of CH4 emissions in CO2 eq. divided by 25.)

    I mea

  • And they wonder why a majority of people in the US disbelieve global warming. The only potential disaster from this is tear stained prius seats. You can argue over whether global warming is real or not but even if you take the worst case scenario, this is such a small amount of C02 compared to global emissions and the effect on temperature will be too low to measure.
  • The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force of government.

  • Seriously, we need to have new nuclear reactors that can replace not only old reactors, but coal and even some of the nat gas.
    It is sad that the GOP refuse to do their jobs.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.