Massive methane leak in Los Angeles sparks debate over environmental regulation

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An alarming amount of harmful methane gas, smelling of rotten eggs, is leaking out of a factory in Aliso Canyon, California at a rate of about 110,000 gallons per hour.

The leak, which has been an issue since October 2015, has led to the evacuation of over 1,700 homes. All people who have evacuated their homes have moved to temporary housing facilities for the time being.

“Accidents happen, but I think there should be a lot more effort toward preventing these issues, and preparing to fix these issues when they happen,” says SLVHS junior Halie Davis.

The gas well has leaked into the upscale San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch.

Many residents have also reported health issues including dizziness, nosebleeds, headaches, and nausea.

“They definitely should have gotten control of it sooner to avoid these horrible health issues,” says SLVHS junior Ava Badger.

The Environmental Defense Fund had released a clip in late December of the leak,  with methane barreling out of the Earth, “absolutely uncontained.” They said it was “one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported.”

Southern California Gas Company, who is responsible for the leak, do not predict the leak to be plugged until late February or March.

At one point, the company’s leak accounted for twenty five percent of California’s entire methane emissions. This can be attributed to the leaking methane well being connected to an enormous containment unit. It has been called the worst environmental disaster since the B.P. oil spill in 2010.

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Many residents in the Los Angeles area have already filed lawsuits against Southern California Gas Company. Among these are the lawsuits of various organizations. Los Angeles county filed criminal charges against the company on February 2.

In addition, the South Coast Air Quality Management District sued Southern California Gas Company on January 26 on the grounds of alleged negligence of the company.

“Our efforts to stop the flow of gas by pumping fluids directly down the well have not yet been successful, so we have shifted our focus to stopping the leak through a relief well,” Anne Silva, a spokesperson of the Southern California Gas Company, told Motherboard.

She added that the company is trying to find alternate methods at plugging the leak, “The relief well process is on schedule to be completed by late February or late March.”

One of the issues with stopping the leak is the base of the well, which is 8,000 feet underground. Workers have not been able to force enough water down into the well to stop the recourse of gasses up the well; relief efforts have only been able to make it only about half that distance.

The cause of the leak is currently unknown, but research from the EDF has shown that 38% of Southern California Gas Company’s pipes are older than fifty years old, and 16% of the company’s pipes are made of materials which are prone to leaks and susceptible to corrosion.

The company is now constructing a relief well, meant to connect to the leaking well, which will — if all goes well — help reduce pressure to make it easier to plug the leak.

“Some of these things are unavoidable, but we need to commit to cleaner resources to prevent these things from happening,” says Davis.

By Robert Jeffrey

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