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You can’t blame it on the cow this time round: a Californian methane leak

When you hear the term “environmental disaster” what springs to mind? Floods, earthquakes, forest fires? All have been in the news recently, but would you put a methane leak into that category? California has been experiencing just this type of “slow-moving” environmental disaster since the 23rd October. Normally when most of us hear “methane” we think “cow trumps”. Not this time, methane began leaking from a faulty, natural gas well, displacing thousands of families and releasing greenhouse gases equivalent to driving 7 million cars each day.

You’d hope that fixing the leak would be a quick job, but things are a bit more complicated. The gas is escaping from the soil and rocks around the well, as well as from the well itself. The well is one of America’s biggest natural gas reservoirs, is 61 years old and thousands of feet below ground. It’s estimated there’s likely to be a hole in the pipe, about 500 meters below the surface. The pipe carries the natural gas from the reservoir to the top of the well. The pipe itself is encased in cement, so the gas is flowing down until the casing ends where it leaks into the surrounding soil and rock. So, in short, to fix it they need to build a whole new relief well. South California Gas (who own the facility) are estimating it will be February or March before the leak is fixed.

In terms of climate change, the leak is bad news. As one of the largest leaks on record, there are estimates that roughly 10 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will have been released by the time the leak stops. No-one knows for sure what caused the leak, although there were reports of corrosion and well failures at the site last year. Many of the nation’s 400 natural gas storage facilities were built before modern standards came into play so this one leak represents a much larger problem.

In the meantime, residents have been moved away and South California Gas is working to fix the leak as soon as possible.
Another well known producer of methane gas is landfill sites. At Paper Round, we never send any of your waste to landfill. Instead, non-recyclable materials are incinerated and the energy generated goes into the national grid. You can find out more here.

Emily Morrey-McGrath

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