Politics

Porter Ranch gas leak mitigation could occur outside LA Basin

Cows feed at a dairy farm
Cows feed at a dairy farm
/iStockphoto

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Southern California Gas Company has promised to offset the environmental damage from its big Porter Ranch natural gas leak. But local environmentalists and politicians are not happy with recent indications the company wants to do that mitigation work far from Los Angeles.

The company has signed letters of intent with a handful of dairy farms in Central California to pay to install systems to capture methane, SoCal Gas CEO Dennis Arriola said in a conference call this week with investors.

"Our strategy is to look at destruction of methane, and our biggest opportunities in California are with dairies and or landfills, so we are working with some of those owners," Arriola said in the call. "We're actually in the process of due diligence with a handful of dairies, seeing how cost effectively we can mitigate what resulted at Aliso."

So Cal Gas officials did not respond to later requests for the number of or which operations the company has contracted with. 

The company has vowed to capture the same amount of methane or carbon equivalents of methane to match what was released during the four-month gas leak.

The state Air Resources Control Board says nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane escaped.

The company's strategy follows recommendations from CARB that any mitigation occur within the state and concentrate on the cattle ranches, dairies and landfills that are the state's largest sources of methane.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that captures many orders of magnitude more heat than carbon dioxide. 

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the mitigation in an emergency declaration issued earlier this year.

The company's service area extends into the Central Valley and the dairy-rich counties of Fresno, Kings and Kern.

Arriola and other company officials have said they plan to focus mainly on methane capture projects. Such projects include installing digester systems that process dairy and cattle farm manure to capture and reuse the methane emissions.
    
Los Angeles County is not a candidate for such systems because its large dairies abandoned the swiftly urbanizing L.A. Basin decades ago for more rural areas that better accommodated the industry. Three-quarters of the state's milk production comes from six Central California counties. Only about 5 percent of the state's milk is produced in Riverside and San Bernardino.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak added about 6 percent to the state’s methane total, and California’s dairies contribute about 27 percent, said Air Resources Board spokesman Dave Clegern.

“So, if you could mitigate a quarter of dairy methane, you’d cover” what SoCal Gas lost during the four month leak, Clegern said in an email. “The challenge is infrastructure, which would need to be put in place to get the methane into a pipeline network, and that would take some time.”


Several elected officials representing parts of the San Fernando Valley, including Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) have said they want the mitigation programs to reduce pollution in the Los Angeles Basin.
    
Rep. Brad Sherman, (D-Los Angeles)  lives in Porter Ranch. He said he would prefer programs to be located within the L.A. Basin but understands that the environmental benefit of capturing methane is not dependent on the location. He wants the cost of any methane offset program to be borne by the utility company and its shareholders, not ratepayers.
    
Nick Burger, a research economist at the Rand Corporation who focuses on climate change issues, says greenhouse gases cause global damage no matter where the methane is released. So capturing methane on a dairy farm in Central California can reduce the state's greenhouse gas totals just as well as something local.

"It all ultimately ends up in the atmosphere and has an effect, that would also be true of any offset activity," Burger said.
    
Environmentalists have echoed the call for local mitigation.  Alexandra Nagy of Food and Water Watch said she wants, "any kind of funding or money that SoCal Gas would be paying would come back to the community to get Los Angeles off of gas."

Some of the alternatives would be funding low- or zero-emission vehicles for transit and cargo hauling and funding solar and alternative energy systems for homes and industry.

The state and company do not agree how much natural gas got into the atmosphere and how much mitigation must be done. The California Air Resources Board's preliminary estimate is 94,500 metric tons of natural gas was released. SoCal Gas says it lost about 84,200 metric tons.