Southern California Gas Company had been trying to plug a massive natural gas leak for more than two months, and now we have some new perspective on the scale of the leak. The non-profit organization Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has released an infrared aerial video showing the plume created by the normally-invisible methane seeping out of the former oil well in the hills north of Los Angeles. The video puts in sharp relief the gravity of the situation caused by the rupture, which was discovered on October 23 and has been estimated to be releasing tens of thousands of kilograms of methane into the air every hour.
The leak at SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon site is northwest of Los Angeles and just adjacent to the Porter Ranch community. Although the Los Angeles County Department of Health and SoCal Gas have assured residents that the leak poses no harm to human health, the highly-flammable, odorless gas has been treated with chemicals to give it a “rotten-eggs” smell, which can cause headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. Because of this, SoCal Gas has relocated families in Porter Ranch to motels and offered to reimburse them for household air purifiers, per an agreement with Los Angeles officials.
The most concerning result of the leak, however, is that methane is a potent greenhouse gas, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). It is many time more harmful than CO2 with respect to climate change in the near-term. CARB estimated in November that the Aliso Canyon leak has released methane approximately equivalent to one-quarter of California’s normal methane emissions.