Gas Leak in Los Angeles―a Fourth of State’s Methane Emission―Won’t Be Plugged Soon

Monday, November 23, 2015
Protest at Porter Ranch (screen shot from KTLA)

A month-old leak in a giant natural gas reservoir a mile from residents in northern Los Angeles has piqued the interest of the state as Southern California Gas Company’s Plan A to plug it has given way to Plan B.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a 3-page report that the methane being released from a Southern California Gas well’s 40-year-old broken pipe 8,750 feet below the ground is not only making San Fernando Valley residents at Porter Ranch nauseous, it’s making a mess of the air.

Two days earlier, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) issued an emergency order (pdf) for the gas company to tell them what the hell is going on. “Operator has not yet furnished the Division information about, and results from, some of the tests and/or remedial work,” DOGGR said in the order. They gave the company a day to give them the info and plug them into the operation.

The data “suggests that the Aliso Canyon gas leak would have added approximately one-quarter to the regular statewide methane emissions from October 23 to November 20,” CARB’s report said. California recently set a goal of reducing methane emissions 40% by 2030.

The report also noted, “This comes on top of problems caused by odors and any potential impacts from exposure.” It does not mention what those other “potential impacts” are.

The leak is located 1,200 feet up in the Santa Susana Mountains. 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. 

A week ago, gas company employees began pumping a heavy brine solution into the well. They warned residents to stay in their homes for hours to avoid an oily mist generated by the repair effort.

The company said the process would continue for days until the brine outweighs the pressure of the gas and acts like a plug. Once the gas flow was stopped, the company would begin an effort to place a permanent plug at the bottom of the well.

That didn’t work.

The company is now preparing to drill another well to intercept the gas, which could reportedly begin in a week. The gas company acknowledged that may seem like a very long time to some residents.

“The human nose is amazingly sensitive and can detect the smell of the odorant at levels much lower than any level of concern,” the company said in a November 20 Aliso Canyon Update. That level of concern has not yet been reached. “Scientists agree natural gas is not toxic and that its odorant is harmless at the minute levels at which it is added to natural gas.”  

The Los Angeles Daily News said the county health department ordered the gas company to offer temporary relocation assistance to sensitive residents.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:    

Natural Gas Leak That's Sickening Valley Residents Could Take Months to Fix (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

Health Officials Order Gas Company to Help Residents Impacted by Leaking Well (by Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News)

State Regulator Issues Emergency Order in Porter Ranch Gas Leak (by Dana Bartholomew, Los Angeles Daily News)

3-Week-Old Noxious Gas Leak at Giant Storage Facility Unsettles Residents (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak (California Air Resources Board)

Emergency Order to Provide Data (Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) (pdf)

Leave a comment