Last year was one of three warmest on record, researchers find

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – Last year was one of the three warmest on record, with glaciers melting, sea levels rising and a spate of wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) showed.

The BAMS annual State of the Climate Report, by 528 climate scientists from 61 countries, said only 2015 and 2016 were hotter than 2019, based on records dating to the mid- to late 1800’s.

Each decade since 1980 has been successively warmer than the preceding one, with the most recent (2010-2019) being around 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer globally than the previous (2000–09).

For the 32nd consecutive year, 2019 saw the loss of mass from mountain glaciers, while lake temperatures were above the long-term average and permafrost temperatures continued to rise.

In 2019, global mean sea level set a new record for the eighth year running, reaching 87.6 mm above the 1993 average when satellite measurements began, with an annual average increase of 6.1 mm from 2018, the report said.

Greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change and pollution, increased. Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.5 parts per million (ppm), nitrous oxide by 1 part per billion (ppb) and methane by 9.2 parts per billion, the report said.

“A number of extreme events, such as wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, have at least part of their root linked to the rise in global temperature,” said Robert Dunn from the UK’s Met Office, which contributed to the report.

“The rise in global temperature is linked to another climate indicator: the ongoing rise in emissions of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.”

Pressure is building for governments to do more to limit emissions to maximize the chances of capping a rise in average global temperatures at 1.5C, a goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight
By Nichola Groom

PIXLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – Joey Airoso has always been proud of his cows, whose milk goes into the butter sold by national dairy company Land O’Lakes. Now he has something new to brag about: the vast amounts of gas produced by his 2,900-head herd is powering truck fleets, homes and factories across the state of California.

“It’s pretty incredible if you think about it,” Airoso said during a recent tour of his 1,500-acre farm, as a stream of watered-down manure flowed from cow sheds into a nearby pit. There the slurry releases methane that is captured and eventually piped into fueling stations and buildings.

Airoso is tapping into a growing market among U.S. utilities for so-called renewable natural gas, or biomethane, that is being driven by the fight against climate change.

For farmers, it is a way to get ahead of a wave of greenhouse gas regulation and make a bit of cash at the same time. And for utilities that buy or transport the gas, it is a way to respond to the increasing demands of customers and lawmakers to cut their reliance on fossil fuels.

“It is not something very many people are aware of yet, but it makes sense once it’s explained,” said Emily O’Connell, director of energy markets policy at the American Gas Association, the trade group for gas utilities.

Renewable natural gas can come from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane that would have been produced anyway never reach the atmosphere. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it escapes into the air unburned.

Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing renewable natural gas production through partnerships with farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators, while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association industry group. Renewable natural gas is currently between four and seven times more expensive to produce than fossil gas, a gap that its proponents hope will narrow as the fuel becomes more widely used.


California’s SoCalGas, the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, is one of the industry’s top proponents of the alternative fuel. It has committed to making renewable natural gas 20 percent of its supply by 2030, said Sharon Tomkins, vice president of strategy and engagement.

She said California has enough biomethane potential “to make a significant dent in reducing the overall emissions from both the agricultural sector as well as reducing the carbon intensity of our gas stream.”

Across the country, Vermont Gas hopes to one day supply only renewable natural gas, leveraging the state’s preponderance of dairy farms. The utility’s renewable natural gas supply currently stands at less than 1 percent of overall volumes, according to spokeswoman Beth Parent. But the company is helping large energy buyers in the state, like cleaning products maker Seventh Generation, Middlebury College and Vermont Coffee Company transition to using biomethane.

CenterPoint Energy, Southwest Gas, DTE Energy and NW Natural are among the other gas utilities seeking to integrate more renewable natural gas into their systems. Last year Dominion Energy partnered with meat producer Smithfield Foods on a $250 million venture to capture methane emissions from hog farms.

“It’s good for their business,” said Marcus Gillette, spokesman for the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, an industry lobbying group. “Many are on missions to decrease emissions from their side of the energy sector as much as possible.”

Until now, nearly all the market for biomethane has come from bus fleets and other vehicles that are able to use state and federal subsidies to make the fuel competitive with fossil gas. Production of the fuel doubled between 2015 and 2018 to 304 million ethanol gallons equivalent thanks to the incentives, according to a report from consulting firm Bates White.

Today about three quarters of renewable natural gas production is still used for transportation, though Gillette said that is shifting as more utilities seek to provide it for heating, cooking and industrial uses.

Some states are more aggressive in bolstering the renewable natural gas industry than others.

Oregon, for example, passed a bill in August that sets a goal of making renewable natural gas account for 30% of what is carried in the state’s gas pipeline network by 2050.

California, meanwhile, has mandated a 40 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030, something that will spell specific regulatory curbs on agriculture in the coming years. Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, half of which comes from livestock.

For Airoso, that made tapping into the growing biomethane market an easy decision. “We’ve got a $10 mln investment here, so I had to figure out how I protect my investment,” he said.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Rwanda harnesses lake ‘demons’ to power the economy

Fishermen set out for their expedition from the shores of Lake Kivu in Goma.

By Clement Uwiringiyimana

LAKE KIVU, Rwanda (Reuters) – Some Rwandans tell stories of “demons” in Lake Kivu causing the deaths of fishermen and swimmers who have occasionally disappeared on one of Africa’s great expanses of water in the heart of the continent.

Now Rwanda is turning the methane gas which can bubble up from the lake bed, sometimes with fatal consequences, into a lifeline by generating electricity to help businesses expand and light up a nation with a chronic power shortage.

Across Africa, governments are struggling to increase power capacity and expand grids to meet the demands of growing populations with rising aspirations. Poor electricity supplies are often cited as one of the biggest hurdles to investment.

Rwanda’s KivuWatt plant, which started in May, is part of a network of projects aimed at providing 70 percent of the 11 million population with power from the grid or off-grid by 2018, up from 25 percent now. Much will come from renewable resources.

“The country cannot grow if you don’t have power,” Jarmo Gummerus, country manager for the plant developed by U.S. company ContourGlobal, told Reuters on the lush shores of Lake Kivu, where a hi-tech barge gathers methane from the depths.

Rwanda, one of Africa’s poorest nations but also among its fastest growing, is harnessing its limited solar, peat and hydro resources to curb the landlocked country’s fuel import bill while keeping power flowing to spur on industry and create jobs.

Lake Kivu’s methane has now been added to the list of its emerging resources, formed from biogas created by decomposing matter on the bed of the lake that is trapped by a layer of mineral-rich water flowing off nearby volcanic soil.

Left untapped, it could one day explode or, as in the case of another lake in Cameroon, poison inhabitants on shore if it bubbles up in large quantities, experts say. Some locals say it has already claimed unsuspecting victims on the lake.

“There are stories based on superstition that swimmers are taken away by demons,” said Eric Manywa, 20, who sometimes takes a dip. “I don’t believe that. It might be due to methane gas.”

KivuWatt’s Gummerus said the gas in the lake, which can bubble up, contains combustible methane – extracted for the power plant – mixed with other gas that is highly toxic. “It just kills almost immediately so it’s very dangerous.”

His company is now carefully extracting the methane to power a 26 megawatt (MW) plant, with plans to increase that to 100 MW by 2020 at a cost of about $500 million to $600 million.

Despite that hefty investment, using domestic resources is a boon for a nation which has to truck all imports into the country about 1,400 km (870 miles) through Kenya or Tanzania, often along traffic-clogged roads that are poorly maintained.


“Our power is much cheaper than the alternative which would be putting in diesel or heavy fuel,” Gummerus said, adding the methane could also be processed for to sell as cooking gas.

Eventually, Rwanda could generate about 350 MW from methane, with a similar potential in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which shares the lake. Congo yet to tap the gas supplies.

The start-up of the KivuWatt plant is already benefiting local businesses in the region of rolling green hills and volcanic peaks, which the government wants to promote as a tourist destination.

“When I built this hotel in 2013, we could have power cuts every three hours, at least, but nowadays we have electricity 24/7,” said Jerome Musomandera, owner of the Kivu Plaza Hotel, one of a number next to the lake.

Some other hotels said they had yet to feel the benefit, but were hopeful that they would soon be able to unplug private stand-by generators and enjoy lower bills from grid power.

As it adds more supply, state-run Rwanda Energy Group (REG) is in talks with the regulator on lowering tariffs to help the poor and support industry, its chief executive Jean Bosco Mugiraneza said.

Rwanda now charges 17 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) for industry and 21 cents for others. Mugiraneza did not say how much costs could fall by.

Rwanda’s installed power capacity is now 190 MW and set to rise by the end of July to 205 MW, once a new peat-burning plant being tested is linked up. The aim is 583 MW by 2018, a goal Mugiraneza admits Rwanda would have to “work hard” to achieve.

“The government alone cannot afford to finance those 563 MW; that is why private investments are needed,” he said.

KivuWatt was a pioneer by negotiating the first private power purchase agreement, helping pave the way for others.

Other deals that have been signed include one with U.S. firm Symbion Power, which plans a methane plant too. Another firm, Ignite Power, is helping the government to provide off-grid rooftop solar power panels to 250,000 households by 2018.

As well as helping meet Rwanda’s national generation ambitions, Gummerus said the KivuWatt plant was boosting the local economy in the Kibuye region around the lake.

“If you came here eight years back when I came, there was nothing,” he said. “It gives confidence for people to come and invest in Kibuye.”

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Los Angeles-area methane leak declared permanently sealed

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – An underground natural gas pipeline rupture that caused the largest methane leak ever in California has been permanently capped, paving the way for thousands of displaced Los Angeles residents to return home, state regulators said on Thursday.

The leak, which began in October, was confirmed by a series of independent laboratory tests to have been successfully sealed as of Wednesday night, officials said.

The leak originated from a broken injection-well pipe deep beneath the surface of the 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, owned by Southern California Gas Co.

State officials said the uncontrolled release of 80,000 tonnes of methane, the main component of natural gas and a far more potent greenhouse agent than carbon dioxide, ranked as the largest such discharge on record in California.

Environmental groups seized on the breach to call attention to hazards posed by the state’s aging fossil fuel energy infrastructure, and Governor Jerry Brown declared the gas leak a state emergency.

The stench of fumes spewing from the site sickened scores of people for weeks and prompted the temporary relocation of more than 6,600 households from the northern Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch, located at the edge of the gas field.

Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation, said it was now safe for residents to return, and that the utility had agreed to continue paying their relocation expenses through next Thursday morning.

The announcement came a day after the utility, a division of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, pleaded not guilty to criminal misdemeanor charges stemming from the leak, which prosecutors said the company failed to report in a timely manner. Local, state and regional authorities, as well as dozens of residents, have also sued SoCal Gas.

In addition to possible fines and civil liability the company faces, the utility expects pipeline repair costs and housing relocation expenses will end up running about $300 million, said SoCal Gas Chief Executive Officer Dennis Arriola.

The actual leak was apparently staunched late last week. The utility said on Friday that infrared monitoring by state regulators showed that a newly drilled relief well had managed to finally intercept the pipeline breach and halt the gas flow.

A series of follow-up emissions and infrastructure tests has confirmed that the cement plug pumped into the crippled injection well pipe was holding, Marshall said.

(Reporting by Paula Lehman; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Shumaker)

California utility ‘temporarily controls’ leaking gas flow

(Reuters) – Southern California Gas Co said on Thursday it has temporarily controlled the flow of natural gas spewing from a ruptured underground pipeline that forced the relocation of thousands of residents of a Los Angeles neighborhood.

The company, a unit of Sempra Energy, said in a statement that while this was a “positive development,” more work needed to be done before the leak would be permanently sealed. It said cement needs to be injected from a relief well into the leaking well, which is slated to occur in the coming days.

Following that, state regulators would have to verify that the leak has been sealed before it will be declared over, the company said. That process is expected to take several more days.

“We have temporarily controlled the natural gas flow from the leaking well and begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak,” Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, said in a statement.

The leak stems from an underground pipeline rupture at the company’s 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field. The leak, detected on Oct. 23, is believed to have been caused by a broken injection-well pipe several hundred feet beneath the surface of the field.

The largest such leak ever in California, at its height it accounted for a fourth of all methane emissions statewide.

Thousands of residents of the Porter Ranch community near the field were forced to relocate because of the leak. SoCalGas said it would wind down its relocation program for displaced residents once the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources confirms the leak has been sealed.

More than 20 lawsuits against SoCalGas have been filed by residents over the leak, along with civil claims by Los Angeles city and county, the state of California and air quality regulators. County prosecutors have also filed criminal charges.

A week ago, the first wrongful death claim over the methane leak was filed, saying the conditions hastened the demise of an elderly woman already suffering from lung cancer.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)

Governor declares massive Southern California methane leak an emergency

A massive gas leak that environmental activists say is sending potentially devastating amounts of methane into the air above Los Angeles was declared an emergency situation on Wednesday.

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. made the announcement in a news release, outlining a variety of steps designed to protect public health, stop the leak and prevent future ones from occurring.

Methane has been leaking from the Aliso Canyon storage facility since Oct. 23. The Southern California Gas Company that owns the facility has been working to stop the leak ever since, though letters that appear on the company’s website indicate that workers don’t expect to seal the leak until late February or late March as it involves drilling some 8,000 feet underground.

Last month, Brown’s office released a letter he wrote to the company’s chief executive officer in which the governor called the response “insufficient.” The emergency declared Monday directs the Southern California Gas Company to take “all necessary and viable actions” to stop the leak.

The governor’s declaration came two weeks after the Environmental Defense Fund released an infrared video in which methane could be seen billowing from the facility at a purported rate of 62 million cubic feet every day. Approximately 28 million cubic feet of oil was released during the entire 87-day Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, according to a U.S. Coast Guard report.

The governor’s order instructs the company to ensure it’s withdrawing as much gas as possible from the facility so that it doesn’t escape into the air, captures whatever methane is leaking, and comes up with a plan to stop the leak if the company’s current plan of drilling a relief well and pumping it full of cement and other fluids doesn’t fix the problem or the leak gets worse.

The Environmental Defense Fund said the leak at its current rate had the same long-term impact on climate change as driving 7 million cars, as methane is much better at trapping heat.

The leak also had short-term impacts, as the governor’s office said Wednesday that “thousands of people” have relocated because of the leak. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department had previously ordered the company to relocate residents who were affected by the leak free of charge. The Los Angeles Unified School District also temporarily closed two schools near the leak after “an increasing number of health complaints” was disrupting the education process, according to the district’s website. Those students are being relocated to other schools.

Tests conducted by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment shows the leak “does not appear” to present a toxic threat to the public, according to the California Office of Emergency Services (CALOES), though the smell of the gas has caused nausea and headaches. Odorants are added to methane to help the public detect leaks. Those odors, while they may not be toxic, could still lead to “lasting health impacts” like eye or respiratory damage, CALOES said.

The governor’s order directs the state to convene a panel of medical experts to look into concerns about public health. It also instructs the state’s Public Utilities Commission to make sure that the Southern California Gas Company pays for the costs of the leak, and outlines more strict practices for gas storage facilities, including daily wellhead inspections to help detect leaks.

Southern California Gas Company CEO Dennis Arriola issued a statement after the declaration, saying the company would continue to work to stop the leak and lessen the gas’s impact on the neighborhood of Porter Ranch, which has been hit particularly hard by the smell, and the air.

“Our focus remains on quickly and safely stopping the leak and minimizing the impact to our neighbors in Porter Ranch,” Arriola said. “SoCalGas reaffirms our prior commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of the actual amount of natural gas released from the leak. We look forward to working with state officials to develop a framework that will achieve this goal.”

Gas Leak Sends Large Amounts of Methane Billowing Into Los Angeles Air

An uncontrolled methane leak at a southern California storage facility is silently sending a devastatingly large amount of the gas into the air every day, an environmental group says.

The Environmental Defense Fund recently released an infrared video that shows gas billowing from an underground well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Los Angeles. The group says the leak has released 62 million cubic feet of methane into the environment every day since it initially began on Oct. 23, an extreme amount that could have significant climate implications.

For comparison, a federal report on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill indicates about 210 million gallons of oil, or some 28 million cubic feet, was released during the entire 87-day saga.

The extent of the leak concerns the Environmental Defense Fund for several reasons.

First, the organization says that methane is more harmful to the environment than other gases. It’s much better at trapping heat and has about 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.

Secondly, the extent of the pollution is very high. The Environmental Defense Fund says the gas spewing into the air has the same long-term effect as the daily emissions of 7 million cars.

Third, the leak has been going on for about two months and there is no immediate end in sight.

The Southern California Gas Company, which owns the Aliso Canyon facility, wrote a letter to those impacted by the leak saying that the capping process likely won’t be completed until late February or late March. The company wrote it has to drill a relief well more than a mile underground, and it will ultimately permanently seal the leak with a mix of fluids and cement.

In addition to long-range climate impacts, the leak is also disrupting the lives of residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood that’s just a few miles from the storage facility. The Environmental Defense Fund says more than 1,000 people have lodged complaints with local authorities about the pervasive smell of the gas. Odorants are often added to methane to help people detect leaks.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department ordered the gas company to “offer free, temporary relocation” to anyone affected by the smell, according to an official department letter published by Save Porter Ranch, a group that aims to reduce industrialization in the region.

The Environmental Defense Fund says about 1,000 people have taken advantage of that, and another 2,500 are looking to relocate. On its website dedicated to the leak, the Southern California Gas Company wrote it is also offering a variety of air purification services to help abate the smell for those who don’t want to leave, though it maintains the air is safe to breathe.