Emergency Declared by Governor as Massive Methane Leak in Los Angeles Spews Record Amounts of Pollution

Campaigners say the breached storage facility is releasing the emissions equivalent of 7 million cars daily.

First (and to date only) direct overhead photos of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad that is polluting Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles County. Taken: 20151217
Photo Credit: Earthworks/Flickr

California governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency on Wednesday in a Los Angeles neighborhood where a blown-out natural gas well has been spewing record amounts of global warming pollution.

Ten weeks after the 23 October breach was detected, Brown ordered state agencies to make sure Southern California Gas Company, which owns the stricken natural gas storage facility, plugs the leak.

“All necessary and viable actions will be taken to ensure Southern California Gas Company: maximizes daily withdrawals of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for use or storage elsewhere; captures leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being completed; and identifies how it will stop the gas leak if relief wells fail to seal the leaking well, or if the existing leak worsens,” the order said.

The breach had released “major amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas” and caused widespread disruption to local people in the Porter Ranch area, the statement from Brown noted.

Experts said the break at the natural gas storage reservoir is the largest known occurrence of its kind.

Methane is dozens of times more warming than carbon dioxide, and the storage facility, which draws on about 100 other wells, is one of the largest in the state. Campaign groups say the broken well has been pumping out the equivalent in carbon dioxide emissions of 7m cars a day.

Thousands of people, including schoolchildren, have been evacuated from Porter Ranch to escape the rotten egg smell of the chemicals added to the gas.

The declaration follows Brown’s visit to Porter Ranch earlier this week, during which he met residents who have suffered nose bleeds, headaches and nausea from the smells. Such chemicals are commonly used to aid in leak detection.

Brown directed his administration to take “all necessary and viable actions” to make sure SoCalGas captures leaking natural gas and odorants. He also asked the company to spell out how it planned to plug the well if its current effort failed.

The order bans SoCalGas from injecting more natural gas into the storage site, and it calls for independent monitoring of air quality. Brown also ordered daily inspections and regular testing of natural gas storage wells in the state for leaks.

Brown has come under intense criticism from campaign groups for his slow response to the leak. On Wednesday, some of those groups now expressed relief.

“This is a hard-fought win for the residents of Porter Ranch and beyond affected by this noxious blowout,” Alexandra Nagy, an organiser for Food and Water Watch, said in an emailed statement. She called on Brown to shutter the storage facility for good.

Suzanne Goldenberg is the U.S. environment correspondent of the Guardian and is based in Washington DC. She has won several awards for her work in the Middle East, and in 2003 covered the US invasion of Iraq from Baghdad. She is author of Madam President, about Hillary Clinton's historic run for White House.

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