After months of ongoing but unsuccessful efforts by Southern California Gas Company to stem a massive natural gas leak spewing methane and other gases from a suspected 7 inch diameter, 61 year old underground natural gas pipeline into a Los Angeles neighborhood, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week. As a result thousands of residents are being evacuated and schools are closing, turning the community of Porter Ranch into a virtual ghost town.
Up to 1,200 tons of climate-changing methane daily have been released since it was first reported in October. Unable to stop the flow with an injection of liquid into the well, SoCalGas called in experts at Boots & Coots Services, the Halliburton subsidiary considered the best in the world at killing leaks in underground pipeline systems and storage facilities. The pipe is surrounded by a cavity and then a cement casing. Engineers think the gas leaks from the pipe at 500 feet, fills the cavity and then escapes at a lower depth where the cement casing ends, at about 990 feet. The engineers surmise that the gas forces its way through the soil to the surface. Thus far all of their work has not yielded the desired result and Boots & Coots estimates another two months are needed to restore the integrity of the underground system.
The gas leak is "one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the history of California," Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander said Wednesday. Englander is one of a growing number of local officials and community members who urged the governor to act. Southern California Gas President Dennis Arriola said in a statement Wednesday that the company was focusing on stopping the leak and minimizing the harm to residents. The utility would work with the state to offset the long-term environmental impact of the methane, Arriola said.
In the wake of the crisis Governor Brown has also directed a long-term look at the future of gas-storage sites in the state, including whether the fossil-fuel facilities fit Brown's ambitious plans to ramp up the use of solar, wind and other, cleaner energy sources.