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Attempts to Plug the Enormous Porter Ranch Methane Leak Have Made Things Way Worse

So there is an enormous gas leak at the Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon storage site near the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch that has gone unplugged for nearly three months now. In the first month alone, it accounted for a quarter of all of California's methane emissions and by now has spewed about 84 thousand metric tons of the global warmer. Residents have gotten headaches and nausea. Thousands have been relocated. SoCal Gas says the leak won't be stopped for months. Every attempt to fix the problem so far has caused more problems. And apparently it can still get way, way worse. There could be a blowout, in which case "highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels," according to the LA Times. How likely is that? It's now "a significant concern after a seventh attempt to plug the well created more precarious conditions at the site." (Seventh.)

More leaked gas would be even worse for the environment, but it would also mean the whole site could just explode in a fireball "if ignited by a spark." Luckily, sparks are pretty rare, right? "The risk of fire already is so high that cellphones and watches are banned from the site." Oh. And actually the state agency that oversee well well safety regulators says a fire is "a concern" either way.

SoCal Gas, which is owned by Sempra Energy, has tried to plug the well several times now—which was originally just leaking out of some cracks in the ground—by pumping in a slurry, which has made the situation far worse. The first attempt in November ended up "blasting open a small vent" 20 feet from the well, creating a "blowout to surface," as an official described it, and allowing "a serious amount of gas" to stream right out of the ground in a muddy, slurry, gasy geyser ("A large column of gas, aerated mud, and rock," according to the official.). Further efforts worsened the issue and in the first three weeks of November the methane emissions from the well shot up.


But it gets worse.

The last slurry attempt, in late December, "expanded a crater around the wellhead," which is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long, and 30 feet wide, exposing the wellhead, now "held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt," and the well pipe and control valves, still "exposed and unsupported … atop a deep field of pressurized gas." A physical sciences professor tells the Times that if the wellhead goes, "It will be a horrible, horrible problem. The leak rates would go way up."

The safety valve on the well has been missing since 1979 and SoCal Gas knew the entire site was at risk from age and corrosion.

Now that the slurry solution has failed many times, SoCal Gas is drilling relief wells, but probably won't get to the base of the well for at least six weeks. Sempra has refused to talk to the Times or provide photos or access to the site.
· Efforts to plug Porter Ranch-area gas leak worsened blowout risk, regulators say [LAT]
· New Aerial Video Shows the Terrifying Hugeness of the Porter Ranch Gas Leak [Curbed LA]
· SoCal Gas Company Knew It Had Failing Pipes at Site of Massive Porter Ranch Gas Leak [Curbed LA]
· A Running Count of Exactly How Much Methane is Being Released From Huge Porter Ranch Gas Leak [Curbed LA]