Southern California is, at this very moment,
in the throes of what is potentially the most prolific gas
leak to have ever occurred. The disaster–a methane
leak at a natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch,
California–has yet to galvanize the kind of media and popular
attention that attended the
Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. However, particularly from
a climate change perspective, the ongoing methane gas leak is
unfortunately turning out to be a significant environmental
The leak's locus is a tiny pipe buried more than a
kilometer underground at the natural gas storage
facility, owned by SoCalGas. It began in October and has
proven resistant to attempts to contain it. The company hopes to
have it contained by sometime in March, 2016.
In the meantime, until it is contained, the leak continues to
spew a constant, but unknown, quantity of methane into the
air. SoCalGas asserts it does not know how much of the gas is
escaping, though it appears to be significant (
one estimate puts it at as high as 50 metric tonnes of gas
Local residents have reported becoming sickened from the gas,
and thousands have been relocated. Authorities have also detected
dangerously elevated levels of benzene in the area.
Methane is a very potent green house gas. If measured
by its "global warming potential," methane is about
25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In
other words, one tonne of methane will cause the equivalent
amount of warming as 25 tonnes of CO2.
As a greenhouse gas, methane emissions are subject to
California's cap-and-trade regime.
Whether its emissions in the normal course of operations
required it to purchase credits prior to the leak, given the
massive quantity of methane that has escaped, SoCalGas will very
likely now be required to do so.
one commentator has noted, if SoCalGas is, in fact, required
eventually to purchase a large portion of carbon credits, it
could create upward pressure on the price of carbon credits. This
could, in turn, impact both California and Quebec companies who are
subject to the cap-and-trade regime and thus required to purchase
Ontario is set to link its cap-and-trade regime up to those of
California and Quebec once it is up and running).
It will be interesting to see how, ultimately, the cap-and-trade
regime will eventually play into the outcome of the disaster.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, the leak continues unabated.
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