Porter Ranch remains unlivable

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Since October 23, 2015, the resident of Porter Ranch have had to deal with the horror of a gas leak that has been polluting the air with greenhouse gas emissions equal to 3.3 million cars. Southern California Gas Co., SoCal Gas, found the leak and they’ve been working on a solution since.

California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the area as thousands of Porter Ranch residents have been relocated and two schools closed, forcing the students to be relocated and assimilated into other, already crowded schools.

Early in December SoCal Gas, part of the Sempra Energy group, began drilling a relief well to the bottom of the leaking well so they can plug it up. According to SoCal Gas officials, they don’t expect to be there until late February. And then it will still take several days to plug the leak and stop the flow of gas.

The leak is releasing 50,000 kilograms of methane gas into the air per hour — 25 percent of all methane emissions in the entire state. That’s more than 11,000 pounds per hour — over 265,000 pounds per day.

Since October 23, 2015 — 90 days — more than 23.85 million pounds of methane gas has been leaked into the atmosphere, greenhouse gas that is not only poisoning the air in the San Fernando Valley area right now, it is also contributing to global warming — climate change if you prefer.

This is the biggest, most destructive manmade environmental catastrophe in the United States since the explosion of the British Petroleum oil platform Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010. Is the immediate pollution contained just to the Porter Ranch area, or is it affecting more of the valley?

That, so far, is unknown, although the few regulatory agencies that inadequately oversee the oil and gas industry in the state claim the leak poses no immediate health risks — despite some residents that felt ill.

In an online statement to the public, SoCal Gas said this:

On October 23, SoCalGas crews discovered a leak at one of the natural gas storage wells at its Aliso Canyon storage field. In response, we activated the appropriate procedures to begin to address the leak.

“We regret that the smell of the odorant in natural gas is unpleasant and that some people are sensitive to the odor, and we sincerely apologize for the annoyance and concern this odor is causing the neighboring communities. However, the leak does not pose an imminent threat to public safety. The well is located in an isolated, mountain area more than a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than the closest home or public area. 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. In outdoor locations such as this, natural gas quickly dissipates into the air, greatly reducing the possibility for ignition and further diluting the gas as it reaches the public. The human nose is amazingly sensitive and can detect the smell of the odorant at levels much lower than any level of concern.

“We have assembled a world-class team of experts, and we are working as quickly as safety will allow to stop the leak. In addition, we are in regular communication with L.A. City and County Fire and Hazmat Departments, the L.A. County Department of Health, the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“We apologize for how this incident may be affecting you, and we appreciate the community’s ongoing patience as we work as quickly and safely as possible to resolve this situation. If you believe you have suffered harm or injury as a result of this incident, please complete this online form or call 213-244-5151. For temporary housing accommodations, call us at 877-238-9555.”

Gillian Wright, vice president of customer services, said, “We’re deeply sorry for how the leak has impacted the community.”

The YouTube video has an animated illustration of how the well will be plugged.
The YouTube video has an animated illustration of how the well will be plugged.

It’s no longer a Porter Ranch problem, it’s an Aliso Canyon problem. As if that will mitigate the damage and trouble caused to Porter Ranch and other Valley residents.

Some people have suggested the company burn off the leaking gas, but the idea was rejected because of the very real possibility of a catastrophic explosion — several hundred thousand pounds of methane gas can make one heck of a bomb — so we have to wait another month (at least) until SoCal Gas can plug the leak.

In a video that’s available on YouTube, the company explains how they will take care of this problem. But it begs the question: how toxic are the chemicals in the “heavy fluid” (drilling mud) that will be used? How close to ground water supplies will this toxic stew be once it’s pumped into the leaking well? The Aliso Canyon gas rig is located in the San Fernando Valley Groundwater Basin.

As of yet no state agencies or company officials have addressed that concern. All of the water in that basin serves the Valley and Los Angeles. We have sent inquiries to the company, the California Department of Water Resources and Governor Brown. If they should reply we will post an update here.

In December the California Resources Board said SoCal Gas took steps to reduce the pressure in the well and cut the volume of the leak in half. Last week they released this statement:

“On January 15, 2016, the Department of Conservation issued notice of its intent to propose the adoption of emergency regulations necessary to protect public health, safety, and the environment by ensuring the immediate implementation of protective standards for all underground gas storage projects in the state. The emergency regulations will be established under the emergency rulemaking process to ensure that regulations are in place while the permanent regulations are being finalized.

Consistent with the mandate of the Governor’s emergency proclamation related to the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in Los Angeles County, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources finds that there is an immediate need to require implementation of performance standards specifically designed to ensure that operators of underground gas storage facilities are properly mitigating risks and taking all appropriate steps to prevent uncontrolled releases, blowouts, and other infrastructure-related accidents.

• The Governor’s emergency proclamation includes a mandate the emergency regulations accomplish all of the following:
• Require at least a daily inspection of gas storage wellheads, using gas leak detection technology such as infrared imaging.
• Require ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells.
• Require ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells.
• Require regular testing of all safety valves used in wells.
• Establish minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility in the state.
• Require each storage facility to establish a comprehensive risk management plan that evaluates and prepares for risk at each facility, including corrosion potential of pipes and equipment.”

Local residents are skeptical about claims that it will be fixed properly and that it poses no long-term health risks. SoCal Gas admitting the cancer-causing chemical benzene has spiked at least 14 times in the Porter Ranch area.

Again, no one is even addressing the environmental impact of the leak on the local fauna and flora, not to mention the Earth’s atmosphere.

There are a lot more questions that need to be answered, other than when will the leak be plugged, starting with: Why was the sub-surface safety valve not working?

The Environmental Defense Fund has provided the video below, shot with an infrared, FLIR camera, to show the leak.

Top photo: Screen shot from the SoCal Gas YouTube video.