Something stinks at Southern California Gas Company’s huge Aliso Canyon Storage Facility Project near affluent Porter Ranch in the northernmost reaches of Los Angeles. It smells kind of like rotten eggs.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that indicates a good chance of a natural gas leak, but the answers to why it has persisted for three weeks and when it will end have been a little harder to figure out.
Nearby residents have been complaining of the godawful smell and headaches for nearly three weeks while the company tries to plug a leaking 40-year-old gas pipe at the bottom of an 8,750-foot-deep well. On Friday, they were warned to stay in their homes for hours in the afternoon to avoid an oily mist generated by the latest repair effort.
Gas company employees pumped a heavy brine solution into the well and, according to Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council President Paula Cracium, seemed taken aback by the results. “I think they were surprised by this mist,” she told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I know they called county fire and the health department to evaluate what happened up there.”
The cloud remained high above the community before dissipating. But the pumping process will continue for days until the brine outweighs the pressure of the gas and acts like a plug. Once the gas flow is stopped, the company will start an effort to place a permanent plug at the bottom of the well.
The leak is located in the Santa Susana Mountains, one mile from San Fernando Valley homes and 1,200 feet higher. The vast reservoir of natural gas receives gas from around the Southwest in summer, and stores it for distribution to customers in the winter. Giant compressors force the gas into porous sandstone where oil was once pumped out. The gas is trapped on three sides by granite and a fourth by groundwater.
The leak is just the latest flash point between residents and the oil and gas industry. Not only is the Aliso gas storage facility the largest in the western United States, Termo Co. operates 18 oil wells in the Aliso Canyon Oil Fields and wants to drill 12 more.
The company says it won’t use controversial fracking techniques that inject water, sand and suspect chemicals into wells under high pressure to fracture rock and open otherwise inaccessible pockets of oil. Fracking is not well-regulated in the state.
Residents have complained for years about asthma, headaches, nosebleeds and the persistant smell of burnt ashphalt.