The U.S. natural gas infrastructure seems to be vulnerable to leakage on multiple fronts. The most recent evidence: A new study suggests that a whopping 20% of active underground natural gas storage (UGS) wells are leaking. These new findings are on the heels of another recent study which suggested that natural gas plant methane emissions are worse than expected. This begs the question of what the hell is going on here?
The Problem with Underground Natural Gas Storage Wells
In the case of underground natural gas storage or UGS, the main culprit seems to be obsolete well designs. The average USG well was built over 50 years ago, the oldest of which were built over 100 years ago and are concentrated in OH, PA, NY and WV. The problem is that these older designs do not encompass more modern engineering knowledge and techniques. The 2015 Aliso Canyon leak in CA – the largest emission failure in history – was likely caused by an obsolete well design.
Obviously this apparently pervasive leak situation in the natural gas industry is problematic when it comes to emergency preparedness. Leaks emit greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change and increasing weather volatility, they can lead to explosive situations that damage infrastructure, and leak mitigation efforts effectively reduce the amount of financial resources dedicated to new technologies.
My only hope is that studies like this one will help to accelerate the mitigation of gas leakage in this country – whether caused by underground natural gas storage wells or gas plants themselves. Despite the huge financial outlay required, I think it is better to bite the bullet and fix this problem ASAP before any additional long-term environmental damage is done.