Thursday, February 18, 2016

Cap Holds in California Gas Storage Disaster

One of the largest artificial disasters of 2015 is under control now, with infrared and radar images showing that the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in California is holding after a series of patches since last week. More than 10,000 people were evacuated for four months and it is hard to estimate the medical consequences of the gas leak. A no-fly zone was declared around the area because of the risk of the leaking gas to aircraft. The greenhouse gas impact of the leak was large enough to be compared to the normal greenhouse gas impact of the entire United States.

The natural gas storage facility was built more than 60 years ago in an abandoned oil field, and the natural deterioration of equipment over time made this kind of leak inevitable. The residual oil from the former oil wells acts as a contaminant in the natural gas, making it more harmful than natural gas would be on its own. The disaster got sparse news coverage, in part because there are risks involved in every form of large-scale energy storage and news outlets are loath to emphasize the social risks inherent in the conventional lifestyle that news advertisers represent.

The lack of news coverage shouldn’t lead anyone to underestimate the impact of this kind of disaster, however. Whether covered in the news or not, an event like this does show that we are all living beyond our means, hoping that disaster doesn’t strike but knowing that, realistically, things will continue to break down at a rate similar to what we’ve seen.