In southern California, a two month long greenhouse gas leak continues. The outpouring of methane, a greenhouse emission 70 times stronger than carbon dioxide, has been oozing out of a natural gas storage site – and it does not appear the leak will be repaired until the spring.
According to the California Air Resources Board, the storage site continues to leak up to 145,000 pounds of gas per hour. In the first month of the leak, that equated to 80,000 tons – or approximately ¼ of California’s usual monthly methane emissions. The issue is so severe that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned low-flying planes from flying over the area since their engines could ignite the leaking gas and cause an explosion.
Steve Bohlen, who is California’s former state oil and gas supervisor, cannot remember the state ever experiencing such a situation. “I asked this question of our staff of 30 years. This is unique in the last three or four decades. This is an unusual event, period.”
The gas leak has caused more than 700 residences to temporarily relocate. A lawsuit over health problems from the gas has been filed against the Southern California Gas Company. The levels of gas are so low that they should not cause long-term health effects, but the smell is pungent.
According to officials, the reason the leak is taking so long to stop is because the site is located at Aliso Canyon – an abandoned oil field – where the gas is stored in underground tanks.
Chris McGill of the American Gas Association noted that, “We have the largest natural gas storage system in the world.” And the storage site at Aliso Canyon is extremely large.
Workers noticed the leak back on October 23, when measures that are normally used to stop small leaks did not work. The company tried the normal remedies five additional times, and the gas continued to leak. Crews then knew that the problem was deep underground.
The new plan consists of SoCalGas drilling a relief well, which it began on December 4. Crews will then pour cement down the well to seal the other wells off for good. SoCalGas released a statement that, “Relief wells are a proven approach to shutting down oil and gas wells.”
Work can only be done in the daylight as lighting equipment used at night may cause sparks and cause an explosion.
Bohen assures that, “There is no stone being left unturned to get this well closed. It’s our top priority.” But, until the leak is stopped, the gas continues to spread into the atmosphere.