The gas well leak near Los Angeles in southern California that started last year has continued to stream methane into the air at a rate of 1.7 million cubic meters (62 million cubic feet) per day. This has made the breach the single largest contributor to climate change in the state of California, and makes it the largest U.S. gas leak ever recorded.
But despite the mass of health issues being reported, and a lawsuit being filed against SoCalGas, the company responsible, experts estimate that it could take another month at the earliest to stop the leak.
After a pipe ruptured at a gas storage site at Aliso Canyon on October 23, the well has been continuously spewing methane into the surrounding air and atmosphere. The gas released has now totaled over 77,000 tonnes (85,000 tons), according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), who have been monitoring the situation since it started. Despite being far less viable, they say that this event is the climate equivalent to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that killed 11 people and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The continued release of the gas has been impacting the people who live near the well. Local residents have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea, thought to have been caused not just by the methane, but also by the odorant added to the gas that makes it smell of rotten eggs. Following the breach, more than 2,000 people have been evacuated from Porter Ranch, and around 1,000 have begun proceedings to sue SoCalGas for the disaster.
While methane is broken down relatively quickly in the atmosphere, over short periods it is much more damaging than carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change. In fact, over a 20-year period, it is thought that methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing the planet to warm. The well is not emitting methane at a regular rate, but during its peak, the EDF estimates that the outpouring was equivalent to an extra 7 million cars on the road in California.
The rupture of the well is in a pipe 18 centimeters (7 inches) wide, and experts believe that the break is around 150 meters (500 feet) below the surface. It is being claimed that the leak could have been stopped if SoCalGas had not removed a safety valve in 1979 that is normally located 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) underground, just above the gas reserve. Lawyers are arguing that the removal of the valve made an eventual leak from the site inevitable, and that the company is fully responsible for all of the health and environmental impacts caused as a result.
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