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Giant Florida Methane Plume Probed by EPA as Possible Violation

(Bloomberg) — U.S. regulators are investigating whether a massive methane release over Florida they say likely occurred during maintenance on a natural gas compressor station this spring violated the nation’s Clean Air Act.

The mysterious plume of invisible gas, estimated to total 300 metric tons, was released north of Gainesville between May 2 and May 3, according to Bluefield Technologies Inc., which analyzed data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite and was first reported by Bloomberg News.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that the release may have occurred from maintenance operations at a natural gas compressor station located in Brooker (Bradford County), Florida,” the Environmental Protection Agency’s southeast regional office said Thursday in an emailed statement. The agency “is continuing to investigate the cause of this release and whether any Clean Air Act requirements were violated.”

The Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline, a joint venture between Energy Transfer LP and Kinder Morgan Inc. “vented” during an emergency shutdown of a natural gas compressor facility in Bradford County on May 2, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said last month.

Kinder Morgan referred all questions to Energy Transfer, which it said was the operator of the pipeline. Energy Transfer didn’t respond to multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment.

The plume’s estimated volume was equivalent to roughly 1% of total daily emissions from the U.S. natural gas system in 2018, according to Stanford University professor Adam Brandt.

A global-warming agent that’s 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over its first two decades in the atmosphere, methane has become a major source of concern for environmentalists and climate-minded investors who are stepping up pressure on energy companies to curb emissions of the gas from oil fields, pipelines, gas storage facilities and power plants.

Satellite observations are beginning to make those leaks more transparent. Last year, Montreal-based GHGSat Inc. identified a giant methane cloud apparently from an oil and gas field in Turkmenistan, billing it the first discovery of an unknown industrial methane release from space.

“Methane emissions are like an oil spill in the sky,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at Environmental Defense Fund. “Increasingly there is skepticism around the marketing claim that natural gas is a clean, low-carbon fuel. Evidence of methane pollution in the atmosphere such as we have here, feeds that skepticism.”

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