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California gas well blowout was the largest methane release in U.S. history

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Staff writer | Saturday February 27, 2016 6:05AM ET
Aliso Canyon
Greenhouse gas   The Aliso Canyon natural gas well

The Aliso Canyon natural gas well blowout released more than 100,000 tons of the powerful greenhouse gas methane before the well was finally plugged February 11,


This is according to the first study of the event. The results confirm that it was the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

The University of California, Irvine joined the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, UC Davis and others to show that during the peak of the Aliso Canyon disaster, enough methane poured into the air every day to fill a balloon the size of the Rose Bowl.

"The methane releases were extraordinarily high, the highest we've seen," said UCI atmospheric chemist Donald Blake, who has measured air pollutants across the globe for over 30 years. A co-author of the study, he also collected surface air samples near homes in the adjacent Porter Ranch residential area.

The analysis of these samples found above-normal levels of several potentially dangerous compounds present in natural gas, including benzene, toluene and xylenes.

"Some of the volatile organic compounds have been linked to health effects if exposure is long-term," Blake said.

The disaster will substantially affect California's ability to meet greenhouse gas emission targets for the year, the researchers noted. "Our results show how failures of natural gas infrastructure can significantly impact greenhouse gas control efforts," said NOAA's Tom Ryerson, a lead scientist on the study.

 

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