Energy transfer methane leak in Texas equals emissions from 16,000 cars
An energy transfer pipeline in Texas leaked so much super-potent greenhouse methane in just over an hour that, by one estimate, its climate impact is equivalent to annual emissions of about 16 000 American cars.
The leak came from a 16-inch pipe in South Texas, which is just a tiny part of a vast network of unregulated lines across the United States, connecting production fields and other sites to larger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements begin next month for so-called collection lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage that even minor parts of the network can inflict.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer, which operates the line in Webb County where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline Ltd. unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is underway. ongoing and that all appropriate regulatory notifications had been made. He called the pipe an “unregulated collection line”.
The timing and location of the release appeared to match a methane plume observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalysis firm Kayrros SAS called the most severe in the United States in a year. Bloomberg surveys of methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show that invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely limiting or eliminating gaseous releases from fossil fuel operations is essential to avoid the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency said oil and gas operators should go beyond emissions intensity targets and take a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
ETC Texas Pipeline reported a “line break” that lasted from 8:08 a.m. to 9:17 a.m. on March 17 on its Big Cowboy pipeline jointly owned with Kinder Morgan Inc., according to a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. . The incident released 52,150,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas.
The event likely released about 900 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit group that has used aerial surveys to map fossil gas releases from oil and gas operations in the American Permian Basin. This amount of greenhouse gas will trap about as much heat as 75,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere.
ETC Texas Pipeline’s filing with the TCEQ did not include an estimate of the amount of methane released, and the state agency said it does not regulate gas releases. The Texas Railroad Commission said it was conducting an ongoing investigation into the Big Cowboy incident without giving further details. The US Environmental Protection Agency said as of April 7 it had not received a report on the release, but was contacting the TCEQ.
One of the main insights from satellite observations of methane is the amount of total emissions that superemission events are responsible for. Although these events are infrequent and sometimes only last a few hours, ultra-oil and gas emitters account for up to 12% of global methane emissions from the sector, according to a study published in Science in February by French scientists. and Americans. The researchers used satellite observations to identify more than 1,800 major gas releases.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it has not received any reports of a release from regulated facilities in the area and the Texas Railroad Commission is monitoring the Big Cowboy line. Federal pipeline safety regulations and reporting requirements will apply to onshore gas gathering lines beginning May 16.
With the exception of rare overpressure events that can pose significant safety risks, there are almost always ways to significantly reduce methane releases from pipelines, according to Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. However, these techniques have not been required in the United States. Since pipeline operators are reimbursed for any lost or unaccounted gas through their negotiated rates, they have no financial incentive to keep the gas in the pipe, he added.
“At the end of the day, the consumer pays for all that climate-devastating methane released into the atmosphere,” Caram said in an email.