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Why a natural gas storage climate ‘disaster’ could happen again

Updated: Feb 2


The methane leak in 2022 in the Rager Mountain storage facility in western Pennsylvania. The leak sent the equivalent of the annual emissions from 300,000 vehicles’ worth of the climate-damaging gas into the air.. (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)


By Taylor Kate Brown for Floodlight. Also published in Inside Climate News, Energy News Network and the Allegheny Front


On a November afternoon in 2022, a 57-year-old well tapped into an underground natural gas storage reservoir in western Pennsylvania started leaking, fast enough that people a few miles away heard a loud, jet engine-like noise. 


By the time the leak was stopped nearly two weeks later, roughly 16,000 metric tons of methane had escaped into the atmosphere, the equivalent of more than the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 300,000 gas-powered cars.


The blowout of a well at the Rager Mountain gas storage field was the worst methane leak from underground storage since Aliso Canyon in California in 2015. That incident forced thousands of people from their homes and sickened many of them, taking four months to contain. In 2021, 35,000 plaintiffs in one class-action lawsuit were awarded up to $1.5 billion in damages. 


While not as large or imminently dangerous to residents, the Rager Mountain leak was a “disaster,” according to one Pennsylvania regulator. Bloomberg labeled it the United States’ worst climate disaster that year. 


The natural gas that leaked methane in Pennsylvania and California is not stored in tanks but in giant underground geological formations accessed by multiple wells. There are about 400 such storage fields across 32 states.


According to a new report, there are thousands more potential opportunities for a similar situation across the country. The new analysis of data collected by federal regulators suggests there are as many as 11,446 storage wells in the country with the same key risk as the wells that failed at Rager Mountain and Aliso Canyon: They have only a single barrier to failure.




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