Methane spews unchecked from underground storage facility in Los Angeles County
Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles County, partial view. Photo/SoCal Gas

Methane spews unchecked from underground storage facility in Los Angeles County

A giant leak at a natural gas storage facility in the Los Angeles area is reversing many of the efforts of California industry, businesses and schools to comply with increasingly stringent emissions rules.

Methane is an especially powerful climate change gas. And residents downwind have had to leave their homes due to the smell from an additive in the gas.

Very large quantities of the potent climate changing gas methane are escaping from a well that is part of an extensive underground gas storage site serving Southern California. More than 300 people have had to leave their homes.

Southern California Gas Co., a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, has 115 gas storage wells at the Aliso Canyon site, near Porter Ranch. It stores gas in the summer and distributes it in the winter out of a sandstone formation that was tapped for oil a century ago.

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration. Credit: Jordan Wirfs-Brock, Inside Energy.

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration. Credit: Jordan Wirfs-Brock, Inside Energy.

Dennis Arriola, president and CEO of Southern California Gas, said it will take at least three months to stop the releases, which began more than a month ago.

The gas, under pressure, is gushing at such a rate – more than 44,000 kilograms per hour – that the California Air Resources Board estimated it is increasing the entire state’s methane emissions by 25 percent.

Company officials said the gas flow stems from a damaged 7-inch diameter well casing.

Authorities ranging from the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District to the United Nations are focused on reducing methane because its ability to alter climate during its brief 20-year sojourn in the atmosphere is roughly 70 times stronger than carbon dioxide. The principal sources of methane are agriculture, landfills and the oil and gas industry.

Gas storage projects in California (December 4, 2015)

County Field Operator Active Well Count
Los Angeles Playa del Rey So Cal Gas 22
Los Angeles Aliso Canyon So Cal Gas 92*
Los Angeles Honor Rancho So Cal Gas 32
Santa Barbara La Goleta Gas So Cal Gas 17
Madera Gill Ranch Gas Gill Ranch Storage LLC 12
Butte Wild Goose Gas Wild Goose Storage LLC 17
Colusa Princeton Gas Central Valley Gas 8
Contra Costa Los Medanos Gas PG&E 20
San Joaquin Lodi Gas Lodi Gas Storage 9
San Joaquin Lodi Gas Lodi Gas Storage 8
San Joaquin McDonald Island PG&E 81
Solano Kirby Hill Gas Lodi Gas Storage 9
Solano Kirby Hills Gas Lodi Gas Storage 9
Yolo Pleasant Creek Gas PG&E 7
Total: 343

Source: California Public Utilities Commission
* 115,  according to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources

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About Ingrid Lobet:

Ingrid Lobet
Ingrid Lobet is a reporter at inewsource specializing in the environment. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email ingridlobet@inewsource.org.