The Conversation: California’s Aliso Canyon methane leak: climate disaster or opportunity?
This October, a large leak was discovered at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in northwest Los Angeles. The leak is a serious health risk to nearby residents and because methane – the primary component of natural gas – is a potent greenhouse gas, some have called this leak a “disaster” for climate change.
To be sure, this leak, which is projected to continue for several weeks, is very significant. But because natural gas leaks every day from thousands of locations across the United States, Aliso Canyon’s emissions are actually quite small when measured on a national scale – less than one percent of natural gas' contribution to national emissions.
Given its relatively modest greenhouse gas impact, research on energy and climate policy tells us that this leak is not by itself a “climate disaster.” Instead, it is more productive to think of Aliso Canyon as an opportunity: while fixing the leak must be a high priority for local, state, and federal officials, it should also provide the impetus to tackle the dispersed sources of methane from the oil and natural gas industry that contribute far more to climate change than any single well ever could.
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