In the midst of the world's great efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions arises an embarrassing leakage news that involves a type of gas more damaging than CO2.

On Oct. 23, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) said that it detected a methane leak at one of its natural gas storages in Aliso Canyon. The gas continues to be emitted in the atmosphere at a rate of 50,000 kilograms per hour. For comparison, that amount equates to a quarter of California's overall daily methane emissions.

The more horrifying news is, Californians should wait for another four months before the issue can be resolved, says Sempra Energy and SoCalGas, both of which operate at the site.

"It's fair to say it's one of the largest leaks of this kind we've ever seen," said Mark Brownstein, the vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Climate and Energy Program.


Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 25 times more efficient in trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. The gas is naturally free of odor but once it is mixed with rotten egg-scented mercaptan, which is usually incorporated to natural gas to detect leaks, the situation becomes worse.

The leak caused the affluent neighborhood of Porter Ranch to relocate due to possible health hazards.

A class action has already been filed, saying SoCalGas was negligent in preventing the leak to happen. The complainants also stated that they have experienced nosebleeds, headaches and nausea due to the leak.

Another lawsuit filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that the methane leak has reached more than a million metric tons, which is equivalent to the yearly emissions created by about 4.7 million cars.

For Feuer, they are not only fighting over the odor, they are concerned about the other possible health issues, life disturbances within families and the environmental hazards that may result from long-term exposure to the leak.

What Has Been Done

Steve Bohlen from the California Department of Conservation said small leaks are quite common so when SoCalGas first found the leak, it did what it usually does - dump fluid down the well to halt leak. Unfortunately, it did not work. The crew tried it for five more times but to no avail. With that, they acknowledge that it was indeed not an ordinary "routine leak."

The New Plan

On Dec. 4, SoCalGas drilled a relief well that will interrupt the steel pipe of the original well. After the drilling process, the staff will put cement to seal the wells off and hopefully end the leak permanently.

"This activity is expected to take three to four months," said SoCalGas.

The company said that its top three priorities as they face the issue are stopping the leak, decreasing natural gas emissions and supporting affected customers.

"The company will continue to work closely with all of the relevant authorities, including California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the agency that has regulatory oversight on this incident," it wrote in a statement.

Photo: Genevieve Prentice | Flickr

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