It’s a catastrophe that’s being compared to the Deepwater Horizon spill, yet many are not even aware of it. A massive methane leak in Aliso Canyon, Los Angeles has been leaking for 9 weeks now and displaced over 2,000 nearby families,.The natural gas facility, where the leak is occurring, is owned by SoCal Gas Company, the primary provider of natural gas to the region of Southern California.
The now 2 month old giant stream of methane, a potent climate-warming gas, is blowing hundreds of feet into the air, cancelling out hundreds of smaller efforts of more than a decade to clamp down on escapes of the gas. Methane, a far more powerful climate-warming gas than carbon dioxide, is estimated to be up to 25 times greater than C02.
Pilots flying low have been told by the Federal Aviation Administration to stay clear of the plume for fear of ignition.
The problems started on October 23, when employees of SoCal noticed a leak out of the ground near well SS-25. Unsuccessful efforts have failed to contain the leak, and methane continues to spew downhill into Porter Ranch, where residents are complaining about the smell and have been experiencing severe nausea, dizziness, headaches and other troubling health issues.
Worst of all, there seems to be no easy fix for the damaged well: Michael Mizrahi said that the relief well being drilled to intercept and plug the damaged well — at more than 8,000 feet underground — will not be completed until late February or late March of 2016.
“As of this past weekend, 1,800 families, ill or frightened by sulfurous gas drifting down from the site, have been relocated from Porter Ranch, paid for by the gas company. An additional 1,433 families have asked to be moved, with some still deciding,” said Melissa Bailey, a company spokeswoman.
Although several lawsuits have been filed against Southern California Natural Gas Co. for negligence, there appears to be no end in sight as continued attempts to kill the well have been unsuccessful. The city of Los Angeles is also taking the gas company to court for failing to warn residents. Although officials are still not sure how toxic the leak is, initial findings are troubling. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has claimed residents would not suffer long-term health problems but the Air Quality Management District found high levels of benzene — a known carcinogen — in the air.
“We found benzene levels three to five times higher than what we see in urban Los Angeles,” Sam Atwood, the Air Quality Management District’s media office manager, told CNN. “Benzene is a concern because it is known to cause cancer in humans.”
The amount of methane leaking out per hour is staggering:
“According to the California Air Resources Board, the leak is releasing between 44,000 and 58,000 kilograms (97,000 and 127,000 pounds) of methane into the air per hour. The last estimate on December 22 showed 30,300 kilograms of methane released per hour.The board estimates that the leak is so large that it has increased the West Coast state’s greenhouse gas output by 25 percent — this in a state that prides itself on being an environmental leader nationwide.”
Recent aerial footage of the leak was released last week by the Environmental Defense Fund, capturing the intensity of the leak with infrared cameras. The video footage shows a steady, thick plume pouring into the air over a densely packed residential area:
“What you can’t see is easy to ignore. That’s why communities that suffer from pollution from oil and gas development are often dismissed by industry and regulators,” said Earthworks spokesman Alan Septoff in a statement. “Making invisible pollution visible shows the world what people in Porter Ranch have been living with every day for months.”
In a recent FaceBook post, SoCals president and CEO Dennis Arriola had this to say about the methane leak:
“As a native Southern Californian, and head of a company that has worked diligently to safely and reliably provide natural gas to SoCal communities for the past 140+ years, my most urgent and highest priority is to stop the leak at our Aliso Canyon Storage Facility above Porter Ranch. We are making good progress and will continue to keep our Facebook community updated.”
Kind words, but of little solace to the people reeling from methane related sickness and plummeting property values. Worst of all, this is is just one more piece of bad news for planet Earth, which is already reeling from the devastating symptoms of human induced climate change.
To learn more about methane and its effects on the climate, readers are encouraged to join the Methane Hydrates News Group on Facebook.