"Unstoppable" California Gas Leak Now Being Called Worst Catastrophe Since BP Spill

Tyler Durden's picture

Since initially reporting on California's Alison Canyon gas leak, more details have emerged on the scale (and potential for no solution) of the problem as the infamous Erin Brockovich writes, "the enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground, and it shows no signs of stopping," as according to the California Air Resources Board, methane - a greenhouse gas 72 times more impactful in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide - has been escaping from the Aliso Canyon site with force equivalent “to a volcanic eruption” for about two months now.

New infrared footage exposes the massive leak..


Infographic of leak (and potential solution)


As TheAntiMedia.org's Claire Bernish details, methane gas continues spewing, unchecked, into the air over southern California from a fractured well to an underground storage site — at such an alarming rate that low-flying planes have necessarily been diverted by the FAA, lest internal combustion engines meet highly volatile gas and, well, blow the entire area to hell.  

This is, indeed, the biggest environmental catastrophe since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010; and for now, there is no way to stop it.

This methane disaster is worse than can be sufficiently described in words, because while it’s estimated well over 100,000 pounds of methane spew into the atmosphere every hour, the leak can’t be halted, at least until spring. Even then, that stoppage depends entirely on the efficacy of a proposed fix — which remains a dubiously open question.

According to the California Air Resources Board, methane — a greenhouse gas 72 times more impactful in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide — has been escaping from the Aliso Canyon site with force equivalent “to a volcanic eruption” for about two months now. So far, the total leaked gas measures somewhere around 100,000 tons — adding “approximately one-quarter to the regular statewide methane emissions” during that same time frame.

“The relative magnitude of emissions from the leak compared to other sources of methane in the State underscores the urgency of stopping the gas leak. This comes on top of any problems caused by odor and any potential impacts from exposure,” states the initial report on the Aliso leak by air quality officials.

The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground, and it shows no signs of stopping. As the pressure from the weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area,” explained Erin Brockovich, who spent time in nearby Porter Ranch investigating the leak.

Officials and experts are concerned, and they can’t recall another leak of this magnitude in decades — if ever. “I asked this question of our staff of 30 years,” said Steve Bohlen, who recently left his position as state supervisor of oil and gas. “This is unique in the last three or four decades. This is an unusual event, period.”

Though methane, itself, has no odor, the addition of odorants methyl mercaptan and tetrahydrothiophene — a safety measure to alert people by smell to the presence of natural gas — has made the enormous methane seepage impossible to ignore. Thousands of households have evacuated the area, despite little help, much less information, from the gas company about when they might be able to return. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, SoCalGas spokesperson Michael Mizrahi claimed the company had paid to relocate and house 2,092 households — but that effort is severely lacking, says Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

Yesterday, the city attorney’s office sought a restraining order to mandate SoCalGas relocate residents in the affected area within 48 hours of their request; and it is also seeking a “special master” to oversee the entire relocation operation, which is currently being handled by the gas company. Not only does the present relocation lack speed and coordination, but a housing crunch has resulted in surrounding areas — in some cases landlords, who prefer year-long leases to shorter terms, have driven rent as high as $8,500 per month. Hotels are operating at capacity, and in “some of those hotel rooms there are not enough beds for the people who are being moved,” explained chief deputy to the city attorney, James P. Clark.

“It’s time Porter Ranch residents had direct and complete answers about all facets of this leak,” Clark continued, “including what caused it, how to stop it, and what will be done to assure it never happens again. They should receive better, quicker, and completely adequate relocation assistance.”

On Thursday, Los Angeles Unified School District board members voted unanimously to close two Porter Ranch schools and relocate their 1,900 students and staff to different locations for the foreseeable future. A local emergency has been declared by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Multiple lawsuits have now been initiated against SoCalGas and/or its parent company, Sempra Energy. A Los Angeles firm representing three of the families, who filed their suit Friday, described in a statement that the well has been “leaking noxious odors, hazardous gases, chemicals, pollutants, and contaminants due to a massive well failure and blowout. However, SoCalGas failed to inform residents of neighboring communities of the disastrous gas leak in a timely manner, putting the health and well-being of thousands of families in jeopardy.” Those suits allege “negligence, strict liability of ultra-hazardous activity, private nuisance, inverse condemnation, and trespass.”

A class-action lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of the Save Porter Ranch group; and City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a civil suit earlier this month due to the leak’s continued threat to residents’ health and damage to the environment, alleging failure by SoCalGas to prevent the leak and further exacerbation of “the effects of that failure by allowing the acute odor and health problems faced by the community to persist for more than one month, to say nothing about the indefinite time it will persist into the future,” state the court documents. “No community should have to endure what the residents of Porter Ranch have suffered from the gas company’s continued failure to stop that leak,” Feuer stated.

SoCalGas insists there will be no long-term health effects resulting from the persistent leak; but as Brockovich pointed out, “no one really knows the potential long-term side effects of benzene and radon, the carcinogens that are commonly found in natural gas.” In an email to the Los Angeles Daily News, SoCalGas stated they were “providing air filters for people’s homes” and “have established a claims process for those who feel they may have suffered harm or injury. And our top priority remains stopping this leak as quickly and safely as possible.

“While the odor added to the leaking gas can cause symptoms for some, the gas is not toxic and county health officials have said the leak does not pose a long-term health risk.”

But what’s making this massive leak so difficult to stop pertains to the storage ‘container,’ itself. “We have the largest natural gas storage system in the world,” boasts Chris McGill, vice president of the American Gas Association. In the United States, old underground oil fields are often put to use as storage vessels for natural gas — because, hey, that geology worked just fine to hold oil for millions of years, so why not natural gas?

In fact, there are some 300 such depleted subterranean oil fields being employed this way around the United States. Aliso Canyon, a natural gas storage site since the 1970s, has one of the largest capacities: 86 billion cubic feet. During the summer, gas earmarked for winter heating is pumped into these underground cavities by SoCalGas — and the process is reversed with the turn of the seasons. However, this year, workers encountered what quickly became evident was anything but a typical hiccup. As Wired reported:

“On October 23, workers noticed the leak at a 40-year-old well in Aliso Canyon. Small leaks are routine, says Bohlen, and SoCalGas did what it routinely does: put fluid down the well to stop the leak and tinker with the well head. It didn’t work. The company tried it five more times, and the gas kept leaking. At this point, it was clear the leak was far from routine, and the problem was deeper underground.”

Beginning December 4th, SoCalGas crews began drilling a relief well to intercept the fissured pipe. Cement will then be poured into both to seal the wells permanently. Of course, for this to work, crews must locate that original pipe, which is a mere seven inches in diameter, thousands of feet underground — without accidentally creating any sparks, whatsoever. Work near the leak site, therefore, has been prohibited after nightfall, when lighting equipment could potentially cause such a spark; though drilling for the relief well is situated far enough away to continue nonstop.

Flaring, or setting a deliberate fire to burn off excess gas, simply isn’t an option. The mammoth scope of this leak means a flare would ultimately complicate matters even further.

“There is no stone being left unturned to get this well closed,” Bohlen stated. “It’s our top priority.”

In the meantime, it will be months without any possibility of halting this disaster-in-motion. Sickened, uprooted, and furious residents can rest assured, though, because even as methane spews nonstop into the air, SoCalGas did have this consolation:

“We are deeply sorry for the frustration.”

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NoPension's picture

Why is ZeroHedge the place I'm seeing this?

Agstacker's picture

No kidding I haven't heard a word about this anyplace else, thanks again and Merry Christmas ZH!!

BaBaBouy's picture

Butt, Butt, Butt, FRACKING And Horiz Drilling is Safe we're Told by the MSM...Butt, Butt, Butt

Stuck on Zero's picture

Can't these guys build a steel cap and place it over the leak?  The gas could then be flared safely or recovered.

WhyDoesItHurtWhen iPee's picture

I am shure shlonging it will stop the leak.

Thomas's picture

The mercaptan is not added to the well but rather to the gas once removed. Why would it be in the methane now? 

gdogus erectus's picture

I was wondering the same thing. Clearly bullshit. Just wondering what the smell is or if there even is any. Maybe more like volcanic sulfuric smell?

Save_America1st's picture

If this was a gun going off w/ some basketball Americans getting shot, I'm sure O-shit-for-brains and the rest of the gov-scum would be screaming all about it.  Not a good enough "cause for the agenda" for them to take action on though I guess....too much golfing in Hawaii to do.

CrazyCooter's picture

They probably dicked around and didn't start an interception well, but have since figured out that is what they have to do and are thus behind schedule. They can take weeks to do.

This is nothing new, this problem has been around since the first wells were drilled.


And it is nothing in scale to other california blowouts.


The real concern is if somehow the reserviour ruptured, which is not fixable.



Save_America1st's picture

I suppose if that gas was actually black and could be seen by the naked eye billowing out like that every day for 2 months then they would do something about it.  But since it's invisible unless using FLIR then they probably don't give a shit. 

philipat's picture

Probably quiet in the MSM because there is no non-US Company to extract Billions from?

A Nanny Moose's picture

Simple explanation....nobody gives a shit about the northern end of that shithole known as the San Fernando Valley, where nobody friggin smiles.

If this were on the coast, media would be all over it until...squirrel!!!!

Pinto Currency's picture



Light the methane on fire.

Barnaby's picture

A new light show for Magic Mountain!

NoDebt's picture

Can't Obama just show up and wave his hands over it to stop the leak?  You know, the same way he lowered the sea levels.


Pinto Currency's picture



Burning it woulc onvert the methane to CO2 and H20.

rccalhoun's picture

just as long as the humpbacked yellow belly salamander isnt hurt by the gas its all good

bigkahuna's picture

If that methane encounters a spark...

xavi1951's picture

So what's the problem?  A corporation is loosing millions of dollars.  Isn't that what many ZHer's want?  Oh, the Global Warming angle.  Between the gas on land and the radiation in the ocean, parts of California really suck.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

I hope this doesn't affect the reproductive habits of the delta smelt!

And Merry Xmas, bitchez!

(BTW, seems there is an odor to the methane because its natural gas that is being STORED, not drilled for the first time.  They probably pumped too much gas in, and the increase in pressure opened up some new cracks for the gas to escape from.)

0b1knob's picture

How does this leak compare to the DEADLY DANGER of cow farts and termite flatulence?

Manthong's picture

Well, (pun intended) the plethora of bogus hockey stick-head AGW sociopaths should start dropping like flies soon.

The hole that gas will punch in the atmosphere over Mexifornia should do them all in.

That would be good.

But it would be just our luck that they are full of genuine Mexican burro caca and the catastrophe will have a negligible effect on the atmosphere and climate, like this non-event:


I just hope Santa, Rudolph the dwarfs et al won’t be incinerated in a massive, gaseous fire tornado.


CheapBastard's picture

Moar Kornifornians will scatter like roaches to infest other parts of the country I'm afraid. Hopefully the Guvnors start closing their borders adjoining the Mexican West Coast State.

Manthong's picture

I’m way moar worried about the Kath Irate Gun Prognosis.

Kathy, the wife, knows where most of the guns are.

..and if she gets too hot.. like maybe 23 C, it’s hockey dead-stick time.


philipat's picture

Don't you mean "The way he parted the seas"? That would be a more appropriate way of describing the way he sees himself...In a non-Christian sort of way....Merry Christmas.

War_is_Peace's picture

Perhaps he should be sent in to light a match.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Nah, you need someone with a proven track record to do that trick: one of them TV Faith Healers.  Praise The Lord!

giggler321's picture

I've got some Tire repair spray some place, sticky sh**, works a treat.  All they gotta do is ask...

Whalley World's picture

Canadians know
Duct tape and yer good to go

Never One Roach's picture

You will NEVER see or hear this news on HuffPo or National Propaganda Radio.


Thanks zh!

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

I'm just bemoaning the fact it isn't closer to San Francisco and takes a more disastrous turn.


knukles's picture

May His Blessings be upon You and Yours this Christmas

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Merry Christmas to you too my dearest. I savor each day now as everything in life is really suspended on a tenuous thread, a shimmering gossamer. I finally am having a glimpse of wisdom instead of being headstrong self assured firebrand I was in my youth. Sure I could change the world. Alas, I now see.

Stay safe and warm in his Loving presence and know all has meaning we shall all understand at some point. I take comfort in that.


scam_MERS's picture

Even better, if it were closer to Sacto.

Implied Violins's picture

I'd say go fuck yourself, but we already have bad shit in the water and the air. We are *already* East LA.

tmosley's picture

adding “approximately one-quarter to the regular statewide methane emissions”

Wow, it's fucking nothing.

Urban Redneck's picture

The leak is from a storage well, not a production well.  I am not too familiar with the People's Republic (thank God), but I can't imagine that they allow large quantities untreated gas to pumped across the state through residential neighborhoods in order to fill the sotrage well. 

Edit. Never mind...

tenpanhandle's picture

So is this depleted oilfield storage site accessed by only one well?  If not, and I would think that numerous wells penitrate the area, why don't they start pumping/bleeding this gas out, using other wells,  and use it as fast as possible within the nat gas grid?  Bring in a thousand portable generators and burn it through those and feed into the electric grid.  Temp pipelines to transfer to areas where this can be done.  Just a thought.

Urban Redneck's picture

I don't think there are enough generators in all of California to consume that supply, even if they could be jerry rigged to feed the antiquated grid onsite.  A 1 MW generator is ~20ft long and over 10,000 lbs, and it only consumes about 100m3, and if the facility is 1 cubic mile then at capacity it would be over 4,000,000,000 m3 of gas-, so one would need both a massive amount of generators and a massive number of hours to consume all the gas.  Redirecting the pipeline flow in the system to feed all available gas power plants would be quicker, but could also accelerate the leak.  There is a lot of engineering that need sot be done correctly, and since its California, and there are also a lot of political interests involved, I am sure the self proclaimed "experts" in Sacramento will overrule the engineers onsite and fuck everything up.

MayIMommaDogFace2theBananaPatch's picture

I think the answer to your question is probably similar to this quote from a very cool book/movie:

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.