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Nation's largest methane release followed L.A. gas blowout

As a driver of global warming, methane emissions are second only to carbon dioxide.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 25, 2016 at 3:41 PM

IRVINE, Calif., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Scientists have published a study illuminating the environmental impact of the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas well blowout.

New data -- published in the journal Science -- suggests that in the days following the blowout, the facility released an average of 60 metric tons of methane per hour. Since researchers first began taking daily air samples in November, the blowout has released 100,000 tons of the greenhouse gas.

The leak that followed the blowout was only recently contained.

"The methane releases were extraordinarily high, the highest we've seen," researcher Donald Blake, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a press release.

As a driver of global warming, methane emissions are second only to carbon dioxide.

"Our results show how failures of natural gas infrastructure can significantly impact greenhouse gas control efforts," added Tom Ryerson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a lead researcher on the project.

Air samples collected during the 112-day event also revealed heightened levels of volatile compounds often found in natural gas, including benzene, toluene and xylenes.

During its peak, the blowout was the largest single source of methane emissions in the country and doubled the region's total methane emissions.

The blowout event has inspired climate scientists and environmentalists in California and elsewhere to take a closer look at methane emissions and leaks associated with natural gas production.

As part of a separate methane emissions mapping project, researchers at at UCI identified more than 213 hot spots in the Los Angeles basin -- locations where heightened levels of methane were recorded. The hotspots included cattle farms, truck refueling facilities, power plants and waste water treatment facilities.

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