by Charles Fredricks
A recent public indoctrination event on the issue of Methane held by Climate Resolve makes for a good Earth Day inventory of where we stand in Southern California. As with the previous Climate Resolve conference, what is most remarkable is what was omitted from discussion.
The panel featured regulators and scientists, funded on the public dollar with some support from industry, describing their work to isolate and plug the leaks in our methane distribution system and capture emissions from dairy production. Isolating these ìsuper-emitters was the key to the problem of using methane, according to those present. The idea that we need to get away from natural gas altogether went unexplored. Facts that did come out:
• There are 7.7 million pieces of oil and gas equipment in the California Air Resources Board inventory, many designed to bleed off gas.
• So Cal Gas has over 6000 miles of distribution pipeline to maintain (total U.S. number is over 100,000 miles).
• Natural gas distribution system loses 64 billion cubic feet per year.
• NASA measurements reveal atmospheric methane levels 60% higher than previously thought, increasing at .3%/year.
• Known oil and gas wells in the L.A. area number 5,000, not including an unknown number of abandoned wells. Total number for California is 50,000.
• No protocol exists, nor is one likely possible, to restrict natural seep emissions.
• Cow poop can be collected into digesters and the methane from fermentation extracted, but ìenteric fermentation,î i.e. cow farts, remain uncollectible. California is a major milk producer, $6.9 billion business in 2012.
• Cows account for 60% of stateís methane emissions, oil/gas production & distribution 20%, and waste & landfills 20%. In Southern California the numbers are cows 20%, oil/gas 30%, waste/landfills 50% [these numbers from Avilash Vijayan of CARB were more of a guesstimate, Iíd wager].
Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF may want to consider changing their name to Ecology Destruction Force after thisóthey could keep the same stationary) spoke of ìfast cheap opportunitiesî to ìgain the benefitî of ìa sound methane policy.î The AB32 methane emissions reduction target could be met for a mere $10/metric ton. He quoted the industry figure leakage rate of 1.3%óa laughable fiction when compared to actual measurements taken by scientists in Colorado, Utah and the Los Angeles basin, that came up with 4%, 11% and 17%. Anything over 3% erases natural gasís benefit over coal, making it actually worse, due to the greater heat trapping effect of CH4 over CO2.
The tendency to minimize also arose from Paul Wennberg of CalTech, who concluded that since methane only sticks around in the atmosphere a decade or so, compared to centuries for CO2, if you average it over a century itís only 10 times worse than CO2ówhile being a hundred times worse in that first decade. The idea that relying on this rational to keep using methane means youíll be emitting something 100X worse than CO2ócontinuously, was not a dot worthy of connecting apparently.
Left off the table by the panel of scientific luminaries and regulators was the effect of our methane emissions, considering:
• Every heat-trapping atom of CO2 and CH4 we emit pushes us closer to toppling over the tipping point from arctic tundra and sub-oceanic methane melt, that will boost us beyond humanityís capacity to maintain a habitable planet.
• The environmental and economic consequences of sea level rise.
• The destruction of fresh water resources in gas and oil production, through fracking and similar processes, in a region facing ever-increasing drought conditions. Is cheap electricity from natural gas worth more than agriculture in the Central Valley?óalready dependent on mining groundwater, that produces of 25% of the nationís food supply. With agriculture competing with urban centers competing with frackers for water, who wins? Ans.: nobody. ìThink the Southwestís Drought Is Bad Now? It Could Last a Generation or Moreî Tom Philpott, Mother Jones _ http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/09/southwest-megadrought ìCalifornia has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?î Jay Famiglietti, L.A. Times http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-famiglietti-drought-california-20150313-story.html
• The wisdom of the fracking process which entails wastewater injection, acknowledged by the USGS http://www.usgs.gov/faq/categories/9833/3428 to increase seismic activity, in a region waiting for ìthe big one,îówith Diablo Canyon Nuclear Reactor near four major faults, sitting between two major metropolitan areas.
And, in light of the above, the obvious need for commitment to a post-carbon economy through development of rooftop solar PV, solar thermal, wind and other renewables.