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As Expected, More Fear

April 22, 2016

The left brandishes the fear weapon once again. Will they never stop?

Recently the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage cavern started to leak, which required over four thousand people in a nearby community to move to temporary quarters. As is always the case with a natural gas leak, there was the potential for a fire or explosion.

Senators Boxer and Feinstein immediately declared the need for a federal investigation, similar to the Macondo investigation, to determine whether the nationwide network of 400 natural gas storage sites are safe.

Merely referencing Macondo, a totally irrelevant accident, incites unreasonable fear. The only similarity between the two accidents, Aliso Canyon and Macondo, are that they both involved fossil fuels and drilling.

Senators Boxer and Feinstein proclaimed, “Time is of the essence. The people living near Aliso Canyon and the nearly 400 other underground gas storage facilities across the country cannot afford to wait.”

Why incite fear by saying time is of the essence when underground storage has seen few accidents over the past half century? Why mention 400 underground sites, rather than just the site where the leak occurred, if it wasn’t to incite widespread fear?

Their feverish response could just be an effort to reassure their base constituency, or it could also be an effort to discredit fossil fuels because they emit CO2, or, in the case of natural gas, methane.

So, what is the situation with our nationwide system of natural gas underground storage and pipelines?

First, regarding regulations:

  • Interstate pipelines are regulated by PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) for safety and FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for usage.
  • Underground storage sites have been largely unregulated, (OSHA regulates surface activities), but the Senate is in the process of passing the Pipeline Safety Act that would require PHMSA to establish minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage.

There are three types of natural gas storage sites around the United States.

  • depleted natural gas or oil fields (326)
  • aquifers (43)
  • salt caverns (31)

This system of natural gas storage has ensured a steady flow of natural gas throughout the lower 48 states for decades.

Map of natural gas storage sites in 2007, from EIA

Map of natural gas storage sites in 2007, from EIA

The nationwide underground storage system is critical to ensuring an adequate supply of natural gas year round, since natural gas usage is seasonal and must be stored during summer months to ensure adequate supplies during the winter.

The reliability of the grid in California will be at risk as long as the Aliso storage facility is closed due to California’s reliance on renewables.

Few serious accidents involving underground storage have occurred in the past.

Only two such accidents are reported on the web, though it’s likely others have occurred over the past half century.

  • A leak through a system of unknown salt wells and piping caused an explosion in Hutchison, Kansas in 2011, causing extensive damage and killing two people.
  • A storage facility in Liberty County, Texas, 16 miles north of Houston, had a well control incident and natural gas fire that took over six days to extinguish.

(These are the only two references to underground natural gas storage accidents that could be found on the web.)

It would appear as though underground storage is relatively safe. As a fact, it appears that more people have been killed by natural gas explosions from leaks in homes and in buildings than from natural gas leaks from underground storage.

Natural gas, i.e, methane, is an orderless gas that must be handled safely to prevent fires and explosions. Mercaptan, a harmless chemical, with a distinctive odor, is added to the natural gas so that leaks can easily be detected.

Aside from Senator Boxer’s and Feinstein’s comments, what is the motivation behind the outcry surrounding the Aliso leak? Why did California declare Aliso an emergency?

The immediate reason, after public health and safety, according to the Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking Action, by the California Department of Conservation, was:

  • “The Aliso Canyon natural gas leak has caused significant harm to the environment, as major amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, have been and continue to be emitted into the atmosphere.”
    (Emphasis added.)

Another recent public hearing in Western Maryland involving underground storage, also had methane at its center, as described by one organization:

  • “The site is currently emitting into the air an estimated 10,000 tons of methane and other fugitive gases per year.”

It will be interesting to see whether Aliso Canyon becomes another rallying cry in the war against natural gas.

* * * * * *

Nothing to Fear, Part 4, The Miracle of Fossil Fuels, explains why fossil fuels have benefitted mankind, and can continue to do so for a thousand years.
Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.
Link to Amazon: http://amzn.to/1miBhXy

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

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