A natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon, California, has been spewing out 50,000 kilograms (110,000 pounds) of gas every hour for more than two months, and officials say it could take another three to four months to bring the situation under control.
The leak first occurred on October 23, when the casing of a gas storage well operated by Southern California (SoCal) Gas failed. Strangely, the cause of this failure is not known, and attempts to stop the flow of gas by pumping liquid directly into the well in order to seal the rupture have been unsuccessful.
In a desperate attempt to arrest the spillage, SoCal Gas has drafted in a number of engineers – including several experts who helped to contain the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – to devise a strategy to fix the well. However, a spokesperson for the company told Motherboard that this is unlikely to be achieved before late February at the earliest.
The reason for this delay is that the team has been left with no option but to drill all the way down to the base of the well – which sits more than 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) underground – in order to locate and fix the source of the leak. Furthermore, the initial shaft will have to be drilled far from the well itself to avoid accidentally igniting the gas and causing an explosion.
The effects of the leak are being monitored by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is tracking the volume of gas being released in real-time, focusing particularly on the levels of methane being emitted into the atmosphere. Methane is the major component of natural gas and, according to the EDF, is a “powerful short-term climate forcer, with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released.”
To highlight the catastrophic extent of the leak, the EDF has released a video of the gas emerging from the ground and spewing into the atmosphere. This was created using special infrared cameras, since natural gas is invisible to the naked eye.
Once airborne, methane absorbs the Sun's heat and warms the atmosphere. It can also cause a number of health issues, and has led to reports of headaches and breathing difficulties from local residents. Two schools have also been temporarily relocated for the upcoming semester, in an attempt to protect youngsters from the effects of the gas.
The Aliso Canyon leak is now the largest single source of methane emissions in California, with EDF's Timothy O'Connor telling Mashable that it is causing the same amount of damage as eight or nine coal-fired power plants.