India funds science In its annual budget released on 29 February, the Indian government increased funding for the Department of Science and Technology (DST) by 17% from last year, to 44.7 billion rupees (US$650 million). The DST is India’s main funding agency and will use the money to initiate research programmes on energy, water and biomedical devices. The Department of Biotechnology received 18.2 billion rupees, a 12% rise. But news was mixed for other divisions: the Department of Health Research’s budget represented a 12% rise compared to 2015–16, whereas the Department of Space got an increase of less than 2%. Pollinators star in biodiversity report The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) announced the findings of its first report on 26 February. The review warns that an ongoing decline in the number of pollinating insects (pictured) and animals threatens global crop production, which depends on pollinators and, as an industry, is worth up to US$577 billion annually. According to the report, the decrease is fuelled by a multitude of factors, including climate change, disease and pesticide use. The IPBES, established in 2012, is modelled roughly on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Ebola drug stutters Results from a clinical trial to test experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp failed to show statistically significant results. The drug, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, based in San Diego, California, contains three antibodies and had shown promise in animal studies. According to results presented on 23 February at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, Massachusetts, of 36 people given ZMapp, 78% survived, compared with 61% of 35 patients who did not receive the drug. Mapp was forced to end the clinical trial in January without achieving its goal of enrolling 200 patients because of the waning of the Ebola outbreak. Tetraquark addition Scientists reported findings of a new tetraquark on 24 February. Elementary particles known as quarks usually bind together in groups of two or three, but physicists have observed some composed of four quarks. The new family member, called X(5568), emerged in data from the DZero experiment at the now-inactive Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. Unlike other examples of tetraquarks, all of which contain at least two quarks of the same type, or ‘flavour’, each of the quarks in X(5568) is different. Studying the particle could help physicists to understand more about the strong force, which holds atomic nuclei together. Gas leak quantified Some 97,100 tonnes of methane leaked out of an underground storage facility run by the Southern California Gas Company in Aliso Canyon, California, researchers reported on 25 February. A team led by Stephen Conley, president of Scientific Aviation in Boulder, Colorado, measured methane concentrations above the site during 13 aircraft flights between 7 November and 13 February. The team calculated that the methane release was equivalent to the annual greenhouse-gas emissions from 572,000 cars. The leak began on 23 October and lasted nearly four months. Memory work wins Three British neuroscientists share this year’s Brain Prize for their work on how memories are formed and lost in the brain. Using different approaches, Timothy Bliss, visiting worker at the Francis Crick Institute in London, Richard Morris at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and Graham Collingridge at the University of Bristol, UK, have shown over the past four decades how a brain mechanism called long-term potentiation underpins the ability to learn and remember by strengthening connections between particular neurons. The €1-million (US$1.1-million) prize was awarded on 1 March by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark. Out of deep water A US jury has acquitted a BP site manager who was in charge of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform during the disastrous spill in 2010, which led to 11 deaths and leaked huge amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico (pictured). According to US media reports, Robert Kaluza faced a criminal charge related to the ensuing pollution, but was acquitted by a jury in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 25 February. Kaluza was one of the last BP defendants to face charges over the incident, although the company still has to pay billions in fines. Chemistry petition Chemists are petitioning the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, to secure the future of the institution’s College of Chemistry. More than 3,000 people had signed the petition as Nature went to press. Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced a “strategic planning process” on 10 February, to try to find solutions to the university’s “substantial and growing structural deficit”. A spokesperson for the university told Nature that although the College of Chemistry could be dissolved as a result of this, no decisions have yet been taken and Berkeley is committed to chemistry research and teaching. Italian protests Researchers held a protest at the Sapienza University of Rome on 25 February, calling the Italian government’s support for research insufficient and erratic. The protest followed a 4 February Correspondence in Nature by Sapienza physicist Giorgio Parisi (G. Parisi Nature 530, 33; 2016) that was supported by 69 researchers. A petition to the Italian government and the European Union started by Parisi had almost 55,000 signatures as of 1 March. Italy spends 1.25% of its gross domestic product on research, but the petition says that the EU should require governments to set a minimum of 3%, as the EU Council of Ministers has advocated in the past. Sequencing suit Genome-sequencing giant Illumina said on 23 February that it has filed a lawsuit against UK-based Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the first company to commercialize nanopore sequencing. The technology reads single bases of genetic material as they pass through a nanoscale pore. The suit, by Illumina of San Diego, California, alleges that Oxford Nanopore has infringed on Illumina patents that describe aspects of using pores to read DNA. Oxford Nanopore has its own suite of patents related to the technology. See go.nature.com/7hydeg for more. Chagas scoop KaloBios Pharmaceuticals of San Francisco, California, is poised to acquire sole distribution rights for a version of benznidazole, one of only two drugs that can treat the insect-borne parasite that causes Chagas disease, after a bankruptcy court ruled in its favour on 26 February. In December, the then chief executive Martin Shkreli announced that the company would price the drug on a level with hepatitis C antivirals, which cost up to US$100,000 per treatment. The first global survey of women’s representation at the highest level of academia shows that just 12% of members of 69 academies surveyed in 2013–14 are female. The Cuban Academy of Sciences had the highest proportion (27%), whereas the Tanzania Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences had the lowest levels, at 4%. Only 40% of the academies had policies that explicitly mention the need for increased participation of women in the academy’s activities. See go.nature.com/cwigqv for more. 947,000 The drop in Japan’s population since 2010, according to the latest census. The population has fallen by 0.7%, to 127.1 million. The decline is the first since records began. 7–11 March The United Nations and Costa Rica Workshop on Human Space Technology convenes in San Jose, Costa Rica. go.nature.com/swmviz 8–10 March Seattle, Washington, hosts the Climate Leadership Conference, to discuss US climate policy and innovation in the wake of the Paris agreement. go.nature.com/pwplig 10 March The US Patent and Trademark Office starts proceedings over who holds the rights to commercialize CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing technology. go.nature.com/qvnsn8
News Article | February 3, 2016
In October, residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood — an upscale grouping of houses in the hills just north of Los Angeles, California — complained of what they thought was a natural gas leak from a home in the area. Upon investigating, Southern California Gas Company found that, in actuality, the smell was coming from a much, much worse source — the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility. Aliso is a former oil production field that was tapped out in the 70s, and after the old oil wells were capped, was converted into an underground storage reservoir that has the capacity to store roughly 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas, which is a large chunk of the state’s overall natural gas storage capacity. The field is currently the second-largest natural gas storage facility in the US. There are a handful of types of underground storage facilities, which the US Energy Information Administration has beautifully illustrated: Of all the natural gas storage facilities used, the type of storage at the Aliso field is one of the least stable, as it has the aforementioned retired oil wells compromising the surface integrity of the reservoir. To make matters worse, those wells were capped using technology from the 70s, which is far inferior to how wells are capped today. Which brings us to the leak…. On October 23rd of 2015 — over 3 months ago — a leak was discovered at one of the 115 natural gas injection/withdrawal wells (where they fill up the reservoir or pull gas out) in the Aliso field, and all efforts by the Southern California Gas Company to cap the well and stop the leak have failed. Utility Dive shares a piece of unique insight into just how much natural gas is leaking out, stating that “the ongoing release of what initially was 25% of California’s monthly methane emissions and could be as much as 15% of the hourly greenhouse gas emissions from the US natural gas industry.” In other words, this is a massive leak from the second-largest natural gas storage facility in the US that has been gushing out natural gas as fast as it can… for more than 3 months. Day and night. This thing is massive, and I would bet dollars to donuts that residents had no idea it was there. I live a short 45 minutes away and had absolutely no idea, though that’s not terribly surprising. To put the leak into context, SoCalGas put out the infographic below to show us that the leak is “only” 10% of the total CO2-equivalent emissions of dairies, or “just” 25% of the CO2-equivalent emissions from landfills (!!), or 2% of the total CO2-equivalent emissions from electricity generation. I’m not sure who approved the graphic on the SoCalGas side, but it does do a great job of illustrating just how disastrous this single incident is. On February 2nd, 2016, the California attorney general filed a suit against the Southern California Gas Company over the leak, Reuters reports. This latest suit is just one of dozens filed since the leak was discovered. It claims the utility violated state health and safety laws by failing to contain the leak and even in failing to report the leak in a timely manner. Initial reports found that SoCalGas found the leak on October 23rd, but didn’t report it until the 28th of October. The suit also seeks damages related to the environmental impact of the estimated 80,000 metric tons of methane released since the leak was discovered. Reuters found that the leak was “the largest such leak ever in California, at its height it accounted for a fourth of all methane emissions statewide.” Many lawsuits have been filed and this most recent suit pulls together a few earlier efforts filed by the city and county of Los Angeles and seeks an expedited resolution to the pressing issue at hand as well as financial damages. Several attempts have been made to seal the leak, but all efforts to date have failed. After declaring a state of emergency, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) is fully engaged and driving closure once and for all. The OES website shares that a fix might be just around the corner (finally): “On Jan. 25, the Southern California Gas Company announced that operations have entered the fifth and final phase to cap the leaking well at Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. According to SoCalGas, the completion date is still anticipated to be in late February. The relief well has reached a depth of 8,530 feet and is nearing an intercept with the leaking well. Once drilling reaches the leaking well’s base, crews will transition from drilling operations to pumping heavy fluids, cement and drilling mud into the target well to stop the flow of gas. Enough cement will be inserted to displace the fluids/mud and leave an intial seal of cement that will effectively cut off the leaking well.” SoCalGas has taken as much gas out of the reservoir as it can while still maintaining enough reserve to supply area customers. Even crazier is the fact that all this gas is being stored in what is apparently a rather fragile container… in earthquake country. Let’s just hope this relief well does indeed allow the leaking well to be sealed off. 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InsideClimate News: Do Hundreds of Other Gas-Storage Sites Risk a Methane Leak Like California's? Earlier this week, the massive methane leak spewing from an underground natural gas storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon passed a symbolic milestone: its duration exceeded BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, a growing number of environmentalists, engineers and industry watchdogs say the disaster on the outskirts of Los Angeles could happen elsewhere. There are more than 400 underground natural-gas storage sites spread across 31 states, and, like Aliso Canyon, decades-old equipment is deteriorating at many of them. When Southern California Gas Company finally manages to seal a natural-gas storage well that's been leaking for months, the company will have to shut the well down permanently, California regulators say. And in the meantime, the company will have to minimize air pollution from the ongoing leak and fund an independent study on potential health impacts on the surrounding community. Bertrand Piccard, the pioneer of a solar-powered attempt to fly around the Earth, has defended a decision by David Cameron’s government to cut subsidies for householders installing solar panels by 65%. A cap on subsidies has fanned industry fears that the rate of domestic solar panel installations is set to halve, and the government admits that more than half the U.K. solar industry’s 32,000 jobs could be lost. But Piccard, a high-profile entrepreneur, pilot and chairman of the Solar Impulse project, said that cutting solar subsidies could be a clever way of directing money to more profitable means of cutting emissions. China will maintain plans to gradually phase out subsidies for green energy vehicles until they are fully eliminated in 2021 and allow the market to determine the direction of green car development, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said on Saturday. But auto executives speaking alongside Lou at an industry conference in Beijing laid out differing visions as to which technology the market will favor: Tesla-style pure electrics or plug-in hybrid cars currently favored by Volkswagen AG and others. China is working on a floating nuclear power plant that could sail to specific sites and anchor offshore to produce power for various needs. China General Nuclear expects to complete construction of this small modular offshore multi-purpose reactor by 2020, and demonstrate its utility for a variety of purposes. Construction of the first floating reactor is expected to start next year, with electricity generation to begin in 2020.
"California governor’s state-of-emergency declaration includes requirement that gas utility pay to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane." "California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered Southern California Gas Co. to pay for a mitigation program to offset damage to the world's climate from a massive methane leak at an underground natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles. The directive was part of Brown's Jan. 6 declaration of a state of emergency. The ongoing leak has caused more than 2,300 people to evacuate their homes and forced school closures in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of northwest Los Angeles. Brown's proclamation also directed state agencies to protect public health and safety, oversee efforts to stop the 12-week-old leak and ensure that SoCal Gas is held accountable for costs and any violations. "The California Air Resources Board, in consultation with appropriate state agencies, shall develop a program to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane by March 31, 2016," the governor ordered. The program "shall be funded by the Southern California Gas Company, be limited to projects in California, and prioritize projects that reduce short-lived climate pollutants," Brown said in the proclamation."
A TV cameraman works as crews from Southern California Gas Company and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon gas field above the Porter Ranch section of northwest Los Angeles, California in this December 9, 2015 pool photo. The move came at a public hearing where Porter Ranch residents, many of whom have been displaced or sickened by the methane leaking from the underground storage well, expressed frustration over the failure of the state or the utility, Southern California Gas Co, to stop the leak. The leak was first detected on Oct. 23 at an underground natural gas field in Porter Ranch, which is home to more than 30,000 people. Thousands of residents had to move over the holidays, with the company underwriting their temporary housing. Officials from Southern California Gas, a division of Sempra Energy, said they expected to stop the leak in late February or March. State officials have said the leak accounted at its peak for a fourth of California's 20 million metric tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions from methane. The cause of the leak is believed to be a broken injection-well pipe several hundred feet beneath the surface of the 3,600-acre (1,457-hectare) field. Nearby residents have complained of such ailments as headaches, nausea and respiratory irritation from mercaptans, the odorants added to natural gas, according to Los Angeles County health officials. The officials have said past studies found no long-term health effects from mercaptans. The South Coast Air Quality Management District was expected at Saturday's hearing to sign off on an order instructing Southern California Gas to come up with a plan to capture and treat the escaped gas in the interim. The order originally required the utility to dispose of the gas by burning it, but district officials said at the hearing that safety concerns from local and state agencies required them to put that plan on hold. "They have expressed concern about not being familiar with this type of gas collection and capture,” said Mohsen Nazemi, a deputy executive director for the regulator. "It’s a very unusual circumstance." Such a process risked "additional fire" if the gas is blown downwind to nearby incinerators, Nazemi added. Residents who attended the hearing said they were angry that a decision had been delayed since they had been forced to leave home for months.