The methane leak from power transmission in Texas equals the emissions of 16,000 cars

The Texas Power Transmission Natural Gas Pipeline spilled so much high-strength methane in just over an hour that by one estimate its impact on the climate was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 American cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch pipe in South Texas, a small part of a vast network of unregulated lines across the United States, which connect production fields and other sites to larger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements begin next month for so-called assembly lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage that even small parts of the network can do.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer, which operates the line in Webb County where the leak occurred through the ETC Texas Pipeline Ltd unit, said. The investigation into the cause of last month’s event is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications have been submitted. She described the tube as a “disorganized assembly line”.

The launch timing and location appeared to match a methane plume detected by a European Space Agency satellite that geo-analytics firm Kayrros SAS described as the most dangerous in the United States in a year. Bloomberg’s investigations into methane monitored by satellites near power facilities have shown that invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and intentional releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely reducing or eliminating the release of gas from fossil fuel operations is critical to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency said oil and gas operators should exceed emissions intensity targets and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane emissions.

ETC Texas Pipeline reported a “line outage” that lasted from 8:08 a.m. to 9:17 a.m. March 17 on the Big Cowboy Pipeline it co-owns with Kinder Morgan Inc. , according to a report provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. . The accident released 52,150 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 over oil and gas operations in the United States’ Permian Basin. This amount of greenhouse gases would sequester as much as 75,600 tons of carbon dioxide during the first two decades of its existence in the atmosphere.

ETC Texas Pipeline’s submission to TCEQ did not include an estimate of the amount of methane released and the government agency said it does not regulate the gas release. The Texas Railroad said it had an ongoing investigation into the Big Cowboy accident, without elaborating. The US Environmental Protection Agency said it did not receive a report of the release until April 7, but is contacting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

One key insight from satellite observations of methane is how much of the total emissions are responsible for superemission events. Although these events may be infrequent and sometimes only last a few hours, super emitters of oil and gas are responsible for up to 12% of global methane emissions from the sector, according to a study published in Science In February by French and American scientists. 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 reports of any regulated facilities being released in the area and that the Big Cowboy Line is overseen by the Texas Railroad. Federal pipeline safety regulations and reporting requirements will apply to onshore gas gathering lines beginning May 16.

Except for the rare hyper-pressure events that can pose significant safety risks, there are always ways to significantly reduce methane emissions from pipelines, according to Bill Karam, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. However, these technologies were not required in the United States because pipeline operators are compensated for any lost or unaccounted for gas through their negotiated prices, so they have no financial incentive to keep the gas in the pipeline, he added.

“Ultimately, the consumer pays for all this climate-destroying methane being released into the atmosphere,” Karam said in an email.

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