So about that natural gas leak in California …

For a state that likes to considers itself a pioneer on environmental issues, the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 were disastrous for California.

A full year has now passed since a massive natural gas leak was detected at the Southern California Gas storage facility in Porter Ranch, California. Now we finally know how bad it was: The leak — which displaced 11,296 people and prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency — released 109,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. Or, in non-jargon terms: the equivalent of how much carbon dioxide would be emitted while burning more than 1 billion gallons of gasoline in vehicles.

1 billion???

Yeah, you heard that right. That’s a lot of gasoline we need to displace to make up for the shortcomings of SoCal Gas. Most people’s first thought is: We need more electric vehicles, but EVs only make up 3.1 percent of new car sales in California, and an even smaller percentage of the overall fleet. Even EV proponents like Brown acknowledge it could be “decades” until EVs take over the mainstream.

So what can we do? From the pen (keyboard?) of my colleague Landon Hall:

By making better use of cheaper, cleaner, high-octane E85, and the 1 million flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) already on the road in the state, California could achieve short-term reductions in both smog-forming emissions (like nitrogen oxides) and GHG (like carbon dioxide), without massive taxpayer subsidies. According to a white paper by Propel Fuels, the Sacramento-based ethanol retailer, adoption of E85 has been on the rise: Drivers used 11.1 million gallons in 2014, up from 1.6 million gallons in 2009, a 600 percent increase

While that’s still a far cry from 1 billion, increased ethanol usage, in tandem with more EVs and more fuel-efficient vehicles, is the only realistic shot we have at remedying SoCal Gas’s mistake. What’s more, all of those steps will improve air quality around the state, another pressing issue California is dealing with.

Every drop displaced matters, so let’s start moving away from oil today, not tomorrow.


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2 replies
  1. Steve
    Steve says:

    When you calculate all the costs, ethanol fuels are not cheaper.
    Especially with the loss of about 15% of the furl’s efficiency.
    Costs more to produce. Takes food/corn off the world market…
    Yeah, I don’t buy it.

    • Nathan Taft
      Nathan Taft says:

      Thanks for the comment Steven. It’s true, there is a loss of MPG from 5% and 15% between ethanol and gasoline, but it’s not due to efficiency, it’s due to the lower energy content of ethanol. Ethanol actually burns more efficiently due to its high-octane rating (read more on octane here:, and if put in correctly designed cars actually improves MPG despite the lower energy content. It’s also generally cheaper per gallon than gasoline and despite the oil lobbies best effort at spreading misinformation, does not impact food supply or prices (more on that here: Finally, if you don’t want it, don’t buy it! What we advocate for here at Fuel Freedom is to allow an open market for multiple fuels to compete and operate to bring the cost of transport for everyone!

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