Editor’s note: News of the massive natural gas leak from an underground storage reservoir near Los Angeles made us curious about the implications for Michigan. We knew there were similar storage facilities here, but we’ve learned that Michigan has more of them than any other state. While state officials say those facilities are held to strict construction and maintenance standards, the California leak raises questions about Michigan’s ability to prevent a similar incident here. As we see it, the public safety and climate risks of underground natural gas storage are further cause for Michigan’s political leaders to make a strong commitment to clean and increasingly affordable renewable energy sources.
Update: At 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 8 we added new information about the inspection of storage wells. The update clarifies that the DEQ periodically inspects storage wells.
As Southern California grapples with a massive natural gas leak some are comparing to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one expert says a similar disaster could happen in Michigan.
“The natural gas storage wells in Michigan are the same type as the one that is leaking in California, so yes, it could happen in your state too,” said Amy Townsend-Small, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati who studies methane emissions from the gas industry.
Thousands of residents have been evacuated from the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles after a leak was detected at an underground gas storage facility in October. Residents have complained of headaches, nausea and other health problems associated with an odorant added to the methane to make leaks more detectable. An attorney for residents says benzene and hydrogen sulfide also have been detected in air near the leak.
The leak also has become California’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. About 80,000 metric tons of methane—a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide—has escaped into the atmosphere, according to a real-time counter from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Michigan has more underground natural gas storage capacity than any other state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Like the leaking Aliso
Canyon site, the storage facilities use depleted oil and gas fields to hold natural gas reserves.
The state’s top oil and gas official says Michigan has safeguards in place to prevent a similar disaster here.
“We’ve got some very strict, comprehensive safety standards for well construction and monitoring for gas storage in Michigan,” said Harold Fitch, chief of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. Read more