After three months of leaking methane gas in Porter Ranch, the Southern California Gas Company announced on February 11 that they have been able to “temporarily control the flow of gas out of the leaking well.” The gas company said that they are pumping heavy fluids using a relief well which reaches the base of the leaking well, and that the next step would be to use cement to permanently block the leak, which would take several days. In the meantime, the process of returning nearly 4,400 evacuated homeowners to their residences will begin soon.

Gas Leak
Holes in the ground where attempts to stem the leaking gas wells are underway (EARTHWORKS)

The gas leak began on October 23, 2015. Since then, approximately 96,000 metric tons of methane have leaked, which is equivalent to 8,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and is estimated to be $15 million worth of natural gas. Over the course of the leak, it has been referred to as the worst environmental catastrophe since the 2010 BP oil spill. During the gas leak, local residents experienced headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds in response to the gas. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency ten weeks into the leak, while Los Angeles County and state prosecutors have recently filed charges against Southern California Gas Co. for not immediately reporting the gas leak to state officials.

The review of the gas leak has brought concerns regarding natural gas infrastructure to light. Attorneys representing the residents suing the Southern California Gas Co. revealed that the company did not replace the safety valve for the well after it was removed in 1979. Though at the time the company said that the valve was replaced, a company executive stated that the replacement did not actually happen because it was not deemed a “critical well,” or within 300 feet of residences (the well is approximately a mile away from residences). Though the safety valve would not necessarily prevent a leak, “it would have stopped the continued release of fumes pouring into the community”. Additional investigations from the Environmental Defense Fund indicated that over 38% of the company’s pipes in Los Angeles area are over 50 years old, and that there was on average one leak every 4-5 miles in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Gas Leak at Porter Ranch Well is Stopped – at least Temporarily – Los Angeles Times
  2. Aliso Canyon Leak Sheds Light on National Problem – Environmental Defense Fund
  3. California Methane Gas Leak ‘More Damaging than Deepwater Horizon Disaster – Independent
  4. What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch – LA Weekly
  5. Brown Declares State of Emergency at Porter Ranch amid Massive Gas Leak – Los Angeles Times
  6. Prosecutor Smells Crime, Charges Utility for Huge Gas Leak – The Seattle Times
  7. Los Angeles Area: Snapshot of Natural Gas Leaks – Environmental Defense Fund
  8. Leaking Gas Well in Porter Ranch Area Lacked a Working Safety Valve – Los Angeles Times