One of the greatest negligence in the history of the US
In October 2015, there was an alarming gas leak in the community of Porter Ranch, northwest of Los Angeles. The explosion of a wellhead connected to the Aliso Canyon subterranean natural gas storage system represented one of the most important disasters in the United States.
The Aliso Canyon leak emitted about 100,000 metric tons of methane according to reports from scientists who worked on the case. Due to the state of emergency, Porter Ranch and the surrounding communities became ghost towns, as thousands of families were forced to leave their homes to prevent health problems. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, up to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In U.S. urban centers, the gas is shipped to homes and workplaces in subterranean pipelines, which also serve as storage. Therefore, the Porter Ranch case has been a wake-up call for government administrations and companies, after it has been proven that denial can easily leave human and the environment in check.
An Opportunity to Remedy
There are approximately 1.3 million miles of natural gas distribution pipelines in the United States. Faced with this infrastructure, preventing gas leaks – 95% methane – is a challenge.
In collaboration with gas suppliers and regulatory agencies, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) worked with the scientist Joe von Fischer to develop a methane detection technology from a moving vehicle.
Due to the success of the preliminary results, it was decided to include Google in a project that required computer power, secure data storage, and a fleet of cars from the famous Street View. The idea was to turn Google’s fleet into an environmental detection platform.
The cars were equipped with an air sample collection tube, which was then processed by a methane analyzer and finally sent for analysis and integration into a map showing the size and location of methane leaks in U.S. urban centers.
Thus, with the project already launched in 2012, EDF has made methane maps for eleven cities, allowing companies to repair their gas leaks and prevent situations that threaten the health and the environment.
Sadly humans often need hard events to reflect on mistakes and responsibilities. With Porter Ranch, two enemies of society were exposed: one invisible, methane; and the other visible, the negligence of the state and the private sector.
Fortunately, today there is an awareness of the impact of methane gas leaks and teamwork between the scientific community and companies. This is a great beginning on the road to revaluation and remedies for our environment. Currently, Teamwork could mean everything!