Railroad Commission investigating ‘ultra-emitter’ pipeline leak

According to one estimate, the Big Cowboy pipeline leak, which lasted 16 minutes, released 900 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.

By Rhonda Fanning & Alexandra HartApril 19, 2022 2:07 pm, ,

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much methane in a 1-hour period last month that it’s being called an “ultra-emitter” event.

The pipeline operator, Energy Transfer, released new details of the line break which occurred on the unregulated portion of its Big Cowboy pipeline. The cause of the break is still unknown. The Texas Railroad Commission is also conducting an independent investigation into the incident. Bloomberg reporter Aaron Clark told Texas Standard that the pipeline leak was so large that it could be observed from a satellite in space. Clark said the leak lasted about 16 minutes.

The Environmental Defense Fund estimated that the leak released some 900 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. Energy Transfer did not respond to Bloomberg’s request for details on the amount of methane released.

“That amount of methane is equivalent to about 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide,” Clark said. “And you can convert that into the annual emissions of about 16,000 cars.”

The Big Cowboy pipeline leak is a rare event, in terms of its size, but the risk of other leaks is growing as pipeline infrastructure ages.

“The older those pipes are, the more likely they are to leak, unless there is a lot of maintenance, or obviously, they’re replaced when they need to be,” Clark said.

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