It’s like BP’s catastrophic Gulf oil spill, only it’s in the sky above Southern California.
Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon natural gas leak near Porter Ranch, Calif., has been spewing 50 metric tons of gas every hour into the sky above the Los Angeles area since October. And, like BP’s runaway Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, engineers have no idea how they can stop this leak, which environmental authorities estimate accounts for a quarter of all of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.
On the ground, residents in and around Porter Ranch are reporting being sickened by noxious fumes with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, and various forms of respiratory distress. The problem has become so bad that the Los Angeles school board will pull nearly 2,000 students out of Port Ranch schools and relocate them after the winter vacation.
Under orders from the health department, nearly 2,000 households affected by odors from the leak have been relocated, moving into hotels, rental homes, apartments or other temporary accommodations, at the gas company’s expense.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is barring pilots from the airspace around the leak, worried that they could become sickened if they fly thorough the fumes. The no-fly zone encompasses an area 2,000 around the spill and will be in place at least until the end of March.
The fumes are escaping from a rupture in a SoCalGas pipeline more than 8,000 feet underground, making it almost impossible for engineers to access and repair the leak. Capping it only increases the massive pressure, forcing it to spread out over a wider area before escaping.
Natural gas mostly consists of methane – an extremely potent gas that sickens most people from smell alone. But it also contains of benzene, toluene, and other airborne carcinogens that scientists are monitoring in and around the San Fernando Valley community. SoCalGas has not released its air quality findings to the public despite numerous requests, the Los Angeles Times reports.
There is no word as to the possible causes of the rupture, but the disaster should draw some attention to the recklessness of the oil and gas industry’s drilling pipelines in an area known for its seismic activity and volatile fault lines, without having any feasible plan in place to stop a disaster that’s almost guaranteed to happen.