Louisiana probes source of methane cloud spotted near pipelines

Josh Saul June 06, 2022

(Bloomberg) — Louisiana is investigating the source of a cloud of methane that was spotted from space near multiple natural gas pipelines.

The state began its probe after Bloomberg News contacted the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources about a concentration of the planet-warming gas detected May 28 by a European Space Agency satellite. The plume had an emissions rate of 44 tons of methane an hour and was the most severe detected in the US since March 19, according to an analysis of the data by Kayrros SAS.

If the release lasted an hour at the rate estimated by the geoanalytics firm, it would have roughly the same short-term impact as the annual emissions from about 800 US cars. A second plume identified the same day by the satellite that was roughly 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the original release didn’t have enough information for Kayrros to estimate its emissions rate. 

Halting methane releases from fossil fuel operations is one of the most important steps that can be taken to slow global warming. Venting and non-emergency flaring of methane from oil and gas should be significantly reduced or eliminated to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the International Energy Agency. 

The release under investigation likely originated within six miles of gas pipelines owned by Kinder Morgan Inc. and Boardwalk Pipelines LP and about eight miles from an Energy Transfer pipeline, according to Kayrros. None of the three operators contacted by Bloomberg said they were responsible. Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources said it was first made aware of the methane cloud by Bloomberg.

“We are currently trying to see if there are any potential sources (wells or pipelines) that look to be close enough to have caused such a release,” Patrick Courreges, a representative for the state department, said in an email Friday. He said the agency is reaching out to the nearby operators and its field agents are looking for any physical evidence, such as a ruptured pipeline or disturbed ground.

The plume over Louisiana wasn’t caused by Kinder Morgan’s Midcontinent Express Pipeline, a company representative said. A Boardwalk spokesperson said its Gulf South pipeline didn’t have any leaks or maintenance work that could have caused the cloud. An Energy Transfer representative said there’s no indication the release is related to its pipeline.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said its air assessment team hasn’t seen evidence of the release.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration didn’t receive any reports of a release from pipeline operators in the area, a representative said in an email. The agency began enforcing a requirement that pipeline operators take steps to minimize emissions this year, the representative added. 

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