A new report by the Department of Energy sheds light on how natural gas storage facilities can improve and the risks that are possible if there are leaks. The study was published one year after an estimated total of 97,100 metric tons of methane spewed from a natural gas storage facility for four months in Aliso Canyon, California, according to a study published earlier this year in Science. This was the largest leak of its kind.*
The White House Task Force who created the report lists 44 specific recommendations to “reduce the potential for occurrence of similar incidents in the future.” Contributors include scientists, engineers and experts from the Department of Transportation, EPA, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior.
Key recommendations include creating risk management plans which include monitoring programs, leakage surveys and mechanical integrity tests, as well as an emergency air monitoring plan that can be executed in case of a leak.
The report also notes that approximately 80 percent of the nation’s 400 natural wells were built in the 1970s or earlier. It says:
They have been exposed to decades of physical and mechanical stresses and pre-date many current materials and technology standards. In addition, many of these wells were converted to gas storage from oil production and may not have piping designed for the higher overall operating pressures of natural gas. Although rare, large natural gas storage leakage events can have negative impacts on human health and communities.
When leaks do occur, government reaction seems to differ depending on the demographics of the affected community. As Colorlines reported Monday (October 17), Aliso Canyon’s affluent White residents received relocation compensation after the incident. In Eight Mile, Alabama, a more impoverished Black community, authorities have largely ignored a natural gas pipeline leak that resulted in similar health problems for the community, including nosebleeds, headaches and vomiting.
Many storage facilities are near residential areas, with 370 census-designated places (often unincorporated towns) within five kilometers of an active storage well. The map below shows that several are in California and Texas—two states with high Latinx populations—as well as in Louisiana and Mississippi, home to a concentration of the nation’s Black population. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, where both the state’s most underinvested communities and its natural gas boom are located, 65 percent of the residents living in unincorporated communities were people of color.
Find the report in full here.
* Post has been updated to indicate that the leak—not the study—was the largest of its kind.