California, massive gas leak is causing one of the worst environmental disasters in US history

Da due mesi gli ingegneri tentano di fermare una fuga di metano da un impianto alle porte di Los Angeles. Jerry Brown dichiara lo stato d’emergenza.

What caused the leak in the gas storage facility owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) remains unclear. One fact is certain: since 23 October, nearly 30 tonnes of methane per hour are released into the environment.


Porter Ranch, residential area home to the Aliso Canyon Sorage Facility of SoCalGas © Ted Soqui/Ted Soqui Photography/Corbis


The news has been shared only in the last few hours, when California’s Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, in response to what has been defined one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history. “It’s the BP spill on land,” said environmental law activist Erin Brockovich.


A press release of SoCalGas shows that the company is drilling a pair of relief wells in order to stop the flow of gas leaking at 2.5 kilometres below the surface. The next step will be pumping cement to stop the leak and permanently cut it off from the gas reservoir, which is the US’ second largest according to Brockovich.


Una vista area del sito di Aliso Canyon dove sorge l'impianto. Credit: Earthworks
Una vista area del sito di Aliso Canyon dove sorge l’impianto. Credit: Earthworks


A threat to people’s health

The gas leak is causing serious problems to residents of Porter Ranch who reported to be suffering from headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomit. Two schools have thus been closed and 1,700 households evacuated, at the company’s expense, despite it declares there’s no cause for worry as for health. Similarly, the Department of Energy told CNN that “methane exposure probably doesn’t have long-term health effects”.


Infra-red video

A video, realised by the NGO Environmental Defense Fund thanks to an infra-red camera, shows the relentless, huge leaking of methane and other potentially dangerous gases.


Methane, the most powerful greenhouse gas

What will be affected the most is the environment. CH4 is in fact one of the greenhouse gases most responsible for global warming, following carbon dioxide (CO2). According to scientists, methane retains heat 25 times more effectively than CO2 in a timespan of 100 years. According to a 2010 report by EPA (United States Environmental Protection), 60% of gas released in the atmosphere comes from human-related activities.


Meanwhile, SoCalGas says that “the operation is expected to take until late-March to complete”.

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