Environmentalists use Porter Ranch disaster to target CA fracking

o-CALIFORNIA-FRACKINGThe California Public Utilities Commission is considering closing the massive 3,600-acre natural gas storage location in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles County, anxious that the Southern California Gas Co. has been unable to stop massive leaks of methane from the SS-25 well that began on Oct. 23. The fear is that many other aging wells — which are used to store natural gas and extract it — could spring similar difficult-to-stop leaks. Natural gas is more than 99 percent methane.

Given that 11 million residents rely on these power supplies, that shows the gravity of the problem.

Now the Environmental Defense Funds and other green groups are using the disaster to make the case against fracking in California, arguing that the inability to stem the Porter Ranch leak shows that energy exploration companies and regulators alike are overconfident in their ability to keep energy production safe.

The DeSmogBlog, which is heavily visited by greens around the world and has been quoted and generated stories in many leading world publications, made the case in a recent post:

The SS-25 well itself was not fracked, state records show, but it is not uncommon for companies to frack gas storage sites to help compensate for damage to underground caverns from injecting gas underground. Another well near SS-25, SS-40, was in fact fracked, but that fracking took place at depths of over 9,000 feet, while the SS-25 leak is believed to be far closer to the surface.


“About two times a year on average, operators of gas storage facilities use hydraulic fracturing to enhance storage, mostly in one facility serving southern California (Aliso Canyon),” The California Council on Science and Technology noted in a January 2015 report.

Methane leaks depicted as natural result of fracking

Contrary to the many claims that natural gas is the clean form of fossil fuel, environmentalists cited by DeSmogBlog say the picture is much more complex:

The development roughly 15 years ago of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, combined with horizontal drilling, also spurred a shale gas rush nationwide — and researchers say that overall, the shale gas rush has leaked methane at unusually high rates.


Prof. Robert Howarth has been researching methane leaks from the shale gas rush for years, after co-authoring a landmark paper in 2011 that showed that natural gas production could be even worse for the climate than burning coal if enough methane leaked out.


Howarth now estimates that the shale gas rush has been remarkably leaky.


“The conclusion is that shale gas development during the 2009–2011 period, on a full life cycle basis including storage and delivery to consumers, may have on average emitted 12 percent of the methane produced,” Prof. Howarth concluded in a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Energy and Emission Control Technologies.


By contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimates indicate that less than 2 percent of gas leaks nationwide. But the EPA‘s estimates have come under fire for a too-heavy reliance on industry-supplied estimates and because their numbers seem inconsistent with field measurements.

CA environmentalists: Don’t trust state regulators to do good job

This theme — that regulators can’t be trusted — is already an established stance of anti-fracking forces in California. In July 2015, state rules governing fracking took effect that a Los Angeles Times headline declared were the “toughest in the nation.”

But environmental groups were skeptical nonetheless:

Critics, including lawmakers in Sacramento, question whether the state’s scandal-plagued oil regulator is up to the task of implementing the wide-ranging new rules. The agency has admittedly fallen behind in monitoring oil field wastewater injections into federally protected aquifers. It has failed to obtain required data from oil operators and has missed deadlines imposed by legislators.


“Regulations are only as good as their enforcement,” said Andrew Grinberg, California oil and gas manager for the environmental group Clean Water Action. “Unfortunately,  [the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources] has already shown that they are unable to enforce existing laws.”

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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