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 | September 6, 2016
Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) can meet its summer and winter peak demand without the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, despite the company’s repeated warnings that blackouts could occur if Aliso stays offline. This is according to a new report prepared for Food & Water Watch and the community group Save Porter Ranch. The report, Critical Review of Aliso Canyon Winter Risk Assessment and Action Plan, by Bill Powers, P.E. of Powers Engineering, finds that as long as existing mitigation measures remain in place, Aliso Canyon, one of the largest natural gas storage fields in the western U.S. and site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history, is not needed to guarantee either summer or winter gas supplies in the Los Angeles Basin. In Thursday’s report, Powers refutes SoCalGas claims that permanent closure of Aliso Canyon would threaten gas supplies during peak usage by critiquing two documents released this year by California state regulators. Powers says those documents, a winter risk assessment released in April and a winter action plan released last month, use faulty assumptions about usage and standard mitigation practices and then “editorialize” to create an impression that Aliso Canyon is needed. The April report, created by the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy, the California Independent System Operator, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and SoCalGas, was the more problematic of the two reports, Powers tells DeSmog. “[The agencies] were hammered back in April, and not just by me, for crying wolf by using obsolete numbers to do their modeling,” Powers says. “In the August report, which SoCalGas was not a part of, more accurate data is used but it’s presented with misleading language to reach the conclusions they want.” Both reports require more expertise to connect those dots than a layperson has, Powers adds. Powers points out one key way the winter action plan presents data in what he calls an “uncontrolled” manner. The plan’s scenario assumes, without Aliso Canyon, a usage of 5.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) during a peak winter event in 2016-2017. But the same report also states that, factoring in the new winter mitigation measures and continuing those from summer 2016, the maximum demand would be much lower, in the range of 4.1 to 4.2 bcfd. “They frame mitigation factors like balancing supply and demand and limiting the generators as a curtailment. It’s not. It’s a good management technique,” says Powers. Powers also criticizes the winter action plan for its assumption that shifting generation outside of the L.A. Basin to minimize natural gas demand on forecasted peak winter days amounts to a “curtailment” of service. As he says in the report: Aliso Canyon contains less than 20 percent of its capacity after a four-month-long leak that began with the October 23, 2015 blowout, which forced the company to release much of the facility’s supply. The state then ordered a moratorium on new natural gas injections and storage at the plant while inspectors checked the wells for safety. Without Aliso Canyon, three other storage facilities owned by SoCalGas — La Goleta Gas Field west of Santa Barbara, Honor Rancho near Newhall, and Playa del Rey — still produce an “overabundance” of gas, according to Powers and Food & Water Watch. State regulators and Southern California Gas warned in their April report — and continued to claim for months — that without Aliso Canyon, Southern Californians could face as many as 14 days of blackouts this summer, a threat that many residents of nearby Porter Ranch called “blackout blackmail.” As of September 2, the L.A. basin has seen none of the threatened blackouts. Powers says the company’s scare tactics were “bogus” from the beginning. SoCalGas maintains its position that Aliso Canyon must reopen to meet peak winter demands for gas in the region. A spokesperson for the company, Melissa Bailey, told DeSmog that SoCalGas executives have not seen the report by Powers and Food & Water Watch, but she pointed to separate and independent analysis conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory that “concluded that the facility is an integral part of the SoCalGas system” and still necessary to handle potential shortages. “Restoring natural gas injection at Aliso Canyon to support energy reliability for the winter heating season is critical and without the facility there is an increased risk of natural gas curtailments affecting electric generation plants, hospitals, manufacturers, refineries, and other large users,” says Bailey. “That’s exactly the kind of muddy language I highlighted in my review,” Powers says about Bailey’s statement. “It’s politicizing with language. Their conclusions are not supported by their own numbers.” Powers’ review also shows that keeping Aliso Canyon closed could save ratepayers about $70 million a year. “The good news is, these documents by state agencies, no matter how they spin it, actually show a road map for not using Aliso,” Powers says. The Aliso Canyon storage facility leak, which released an estimated 100,000 metric tons of natural gas, caused 8,000 residents, mainly in the nearby Porter Ranch community, to be relocated for months. Some residents who have moved back still complain of headaches, nosebleeds, and nausea. Some have decided to leave permanently. Residents who want the facility shut down say Powers’ conclusions are vindication of their position. “There’s a greater chance of a big earthquake happening here than a blackout if Aliso Canyon is shut,” Save Porter Ranch President Matt Pakucko told dozens of protesters rallying near the facility on September 1. At the same rally, Alex Nagy, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, told protesters that SoCalGas is still using scare tactics in order to keep Aliso Canyon open because it’s a huge money maker. “SoCalGas stores gas here and does commodities trading, selling it to the highest bidder, to other states and to Mexico,” she said. In a visit to the site during the leak this past winter, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said Aliso Canyon showed the need for a fresh look at gas storage safety standards nationwide. One potential reform may be signed by California Governor Jerry Brown this month. On August 26, the California Senate sent SB 887, a bill establishing proactive safety standards for natural gas wells, to the governor. SB 887, approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the legislature, calls for continuous monitoring for leaks, regular inspections of wells to test their mechanical integrity, and that all wells be equipped with safeguards to ensure that no single point of failure can result in a leak. The standards in the bill are aligned with new regulations proposed by the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, and could become a national model for safety reforms, according to its author, Senator Fran Pavley. The Senate sent a companion bill to Gov. Brown last week. SB 888, authored by Senator Ben Allen, establishes the state Office of Emergency Services as the lead agency to coordinate responses to any future gas leaks. Gov. Brown has until September 30 to act on all bills sent to him by the legislature in August.
"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."
News Article | April 8, 2016
The leak in Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon Facility released a massive amount of methane – a powerful climate change pollutant. Like other catastrophes, now that the pollution release is stemmed, the focus shifts towards cleanup and mitigation (as well as establishing causation, preventing recurrence, and pursuing legal actions). Last week California took a major step on the cleanup front with the release of the final Aliso Canyon mitigation plan, a plan to cut pollution equal to about 100,000 metric tons of methane. Its aims to achieve these reductions by focusing on the agriculture and waste sectors, increasing energy efficiency and decreasing use of fossil fuels, and reducing methane “hot spots.” While the portfolio of strategies laid out within the finalized plan is strong, this is only the beginning of a lengthy process, and one in which pushback from SoCalGas is already palatable. As the critical details of the mitigation plan are put into action, adherence to core principles is necessary to ensure mitigation from the Aliso Canyon disaster is a success story for the climate and people of California. Methane is a fast-acting greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty year timespan – a pollutant that is responsible for nearly 25 percent of global warming felt today. Due to this near term warming impact, neither California nor the rest of the world can afford to wait to deploy real solutions that cut methane pollution and seek to stem the worst effects of climate change. These methane reduction solutions must occur in addition to efforts to cut carbon dioxide. By following the science that shows California needs to pursue deep methane reductions, the state should flat out reject efforts like that of SoCalGas to cut its mitigation obligation by 70 percent. This is something the utility tried to argue in a recent letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in March, recommending the agency use the lowest possible value for determining the climate impact of methane, instead of the agency’s accepted metric, which is backed by the latest science. SoCalGas also encouraged CARB to trade reductions between methane and carbon dioxide, even though doing so has been soundly rejected by most observers to the process. Reducing the region’s dependence on natural gas and associated storage facilities A multi-agency state analysis on the gas system impacts of the prolonged Aliso Canyon facility closure exposes a real vulnerability in the Southern California power system – we are over-reliant on natural gas and gas storage provided by a single company. This is a company that is also enjoying a monopoly over regional energy supply and delivery. With the potential for at least 14 days of electric system outages for Los Angeles this summer season, the need for increased deployment of near-term clean energy solutions has never been more important. What’s more, the value of clean energy investments that reduce energy demand and provide timely supply are more obvious than ever before. These solutions, including demand response, electric energy storage, energy efficiency, and time-of-use pricing, are available and already in use to some degree today. Many of them represent some of the most cost effective, fastest to deploy, lowest carbon and most diversified (read: reliable) ways to reduce peak electric and natural gas use. For example, by increasing energy efficiency, the City of Los Angeles has been able to keep energy demand relatively flat for the past two decades despite adding over one million new residents. Yet, there remains huge untapped potential in residential, commercial, and industrial operations to cut energy demand even further, increase renewables, and use energy more efficiently. Of course, while focus on short-term solutions is necessary, medium and longer-term fixes are also needed. Even with a focus on mandating more clean energy solutions, the system will quickly run into hidden limits that are created by wholesale gas market design – a system that continues to favor natural gas over more diversified resources. The current Southern California energy market, for instance, is dependent on gigantic gas systems for shifting energy loads and does not sufficiently recognize the value diversified assets can bring to the market through increased reliability. To fix this, California must seek to add competition across its energy markets. By focusing on these solutions, California can cut its overall pollution burden while decreasing the need for natural gas that goes into providing electricity and other forms of energy. In the final Aliso Canyon mitigation plan CARB has laid out a structure for project selection, management, and oversight. As this plan turns into action, CARB and other stakeholders must stick by the key principles of achieving methane reductions and delivering solutions that reduce the reliance on natural gas and gas storage, which will provide environmental and public benefits for years to come.
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.