Thoughts on recent news of methane leak in California

Written by Andy Chadwick and Ciara O’Connor

News media last week picked up a story about the Aliso Canyon gas storage well leaking more than 77 thousand tonnes of methane into the atmosphere – assessed as California’s single biggest contributor to greenhouse emissions. The well operator is currently being sued for environmental damage by local residents.

Beneath the North Sea an exploration well drilled by an American oil major blew-out in November 1990. It has since leaked very large quantities of methane, estimated at many tens to perhaps hundreds of thousands of tonnes. This is not an isolated instance of man-made leakage in the North Sea.

If the UK had an environmental compensation regime along the lines of that in the US, where BP has been penalised to the tune of tens of billions of dollars for the Macondo disaster, then substantial sums could be accruing to the UK from the North Sea leakage events. A billion pounds in environmental fines or levies, a small fraction of the financial hit that BP has taken in the Gulf of Mexico, would likely be quite commensurate with damage caused by ongoing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Such a sum would help repair and prevent flood damage from increasingly common extreme weather events. Ironically, it could also have supported the UK Carbon Capture and Storage projects, recently and unexpectedly shelved by the UK government, which would certainly have counteracted some of the atmospheric damage.