This gas leak in the hills above L.A. is the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill

For the last two months, a leak in an underground energy facility in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley has spewed harmful methane gas into the environment at a rate of 110,000 pounds per hour. The leak is already the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill, and it will likely continue to pump methane into the atmosphere for months, since there is no immediate fix to the problem in sight.

Methane gas is invisible to the human eye, but smells like rotting eggs. The leak has led to the evacuation of 1,700 homes in the surrounding area, but the environmental implications are much more serious. Methane is 25 times more impactful to the environment than carbon dioxide, and a quarter of anthropogenic global warming is due to methane.

Although the gas is invisible, recent infrared aerial footage showed the massive amounts of gas leaking into the atmosphere from the site.

At this point, the leak which is located in the town of Porter Ranch (nestled in the hills to the north of L.A.) is responsible for 150 million pounds of methane entering the atmosphere, with the number constantly growing.  The leaking plant is owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC). Research by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) showed that 38 percent of the pipes in SCGC’s territory are 50 years old, and 16 percent are made of made from materials that are vulnerable to leaks and corrosion.

The EDF said that the leak was “one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported” and “absolutely uncontained.” Although engineers are working to stop the leak, it will take months to get it under control, with no practical way to speed up the process.

For the leak to end, engineers would have to drill 8,500 feet, which will take another three months. At the moment, engineers have drilled less than halfway down.

“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 for the Southern California Gas Company, said to VICE. “The relief well process is on schedule to be completed by late February or late March.”

The SCGC is looking into other solutions to fix the leak faster. In the next few months, the environmental impact will worsen, and scope of the disaster may increase, leading to more evacuations.

Featured image via screen grab

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