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Bans on Natural Gas

Why are cities starting to ban natural gas? There has been a new trend started in the last couple of months. Cities are taking a bold step and entirely banning natural gas. Why now?

Here is a series of events that have resulted in these actions. 

For decades California has been using former oil wells to store natural gas underground. Both PG&E and SoCal Gas operate huge underground storage facilities. On October 23, 2015, a seven-inch diameter metal casing broke underground at a natural gas storage facility in Southern California. The impacts would forever change energy policy in the state.

The release at the Aliso Canyon storage facility was the largest single natural gas leak in US history. The daily leakage of methane released was equal to the emissions generated by 4.5 million cars in one day. On February 18, 2016, the leak contained, nearly four months later. The carbon footprint from this event is said to be larger than the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This single event released a total of 91,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. 

In 2018 several reports were released on the impact of natural gas, more precisely the number of methane leaks in the transmission and distribution network. One thing all the reports agree on is the numbers we have relied on for transmission and distribution leaks are not accurate.  Previously it had been predicted that distributions leaks accounted for approximately 1.8% of the total volume of the gas delivered. The surprise was that in many regions the leaks were 2 to 3 times more than previously assumed. The high levels of methane released during transmission combined with emissions from combustion are significant. This information is especially concerning in California, as over 90% of natural gas is imported from other states. When you factor in methane leaks in the distribution system, the environmental impact of natural gas use (methane) is worse than the emissions released from burning coal. This information changed the “clean natural gas” perception forever.

SB 100

In September of 2018, Governor Jerry Brown approved Senate Bill 100. The goal of this legislation is to mandate that all electrical generation in the state of California is zero carbon by December 31, 2045. The title tells it all, 100 as in 100% carbon emissions-free. This legislation also established the State Air Resources Board (CARB) as the agency responsible for the control of emissions statewide. For reference, most utilities in the state currently offer electricity that is 30% or more emission-free. SB 100 mandates all electricity generation to be 100% emission-free by 2045.

I believe that this trifecta of events created a tipping point that shifted the policy conversation. Banning natural gas eliminates a significant source of greenhouse emissions with one action. I anticipate the trend will continue and more cities will ban natural gas as we get closer to the goals established in SB 100.

Further reading:

Charley Cormany
Executive Director

Read Advocacy Update from last month: Advocacy Update, August 2019