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Conservation Groups Applaud New Restrictions on Natural Gas Leaks

Infrared imaging shows the 2015 natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon. New rules would reduce methane leaks from pipelines. (Environmental Defense Fund)
Infrared imaging shows the 2015 natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon. New rules would reduce methane leaks from pipelines. (Environmental Defense Fund)
June 20, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Conservation advocates are breathing more easily – and utility companies are preparing compliance plans – after the California Public Utilities Commission passed groundbreaking new rules on the storage and distribution of natural gas.

The rules force gas utilities to adopt 26 new best practices to find, fix and prevent leaks of natural gas, which contains methane, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

Tim O'Connor, director of the California Oil and Gas program for the Environmental Defense Fund, says companies are going to have to evaluate leaks with consumers and the climate in mind – not solely safety and the bottom line.

"Before, utilities could allow a leak to persist for decades because it didn't present an immediate safety problem,” he points out. “Now those leaks have to be fixed as soon as reasonably possible, but no later than three years after discovery."

The new rules aim to get a 40 percent reduction in wasted gas by ensuring that it is captured and sent to market instead of being vented into the atmosphere.

Company-reported data indicates that in California alone, utilities leak about 6.6 billion standard cubic feet of gas per year.

O'Connor estimates that would be worth about $20 million on the market, enough to power 72,000 homes per year. That's more than all of the gas that was leaked in the Aliso Canyon disaster in 2015.

He adds that the new rules also will require utilities to be upfront about the problem.

"They have to post where leaks are located on an online map so ratepayers and consumers can see exactly where they are located and what they're doing,” he explains. “And they have to report every year how many they have, what the emissions are, and how long it takes them to fix it."

A few months ago, California passed rules to limit emissions from oil and gas wells. Shortly afterward, the Trump administration rescinded similar regulations that would have applied to federal lands, known as the Methane Waste Rule.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA