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Gov. Brown Finally Declares Aliso Canyon
Natural Gas Leak a "State of Emergency"

Declaration Comes After 44 Days of Significant Methane Emissions
Near Porter Ranch, Calif. (Closest Home 1 Mile Distant)


The Calif. Air Resources Board estimates the Aliso Canyon (pictured) natural gas storage well is releasing about 30,000 kilograms of methane per hour. Natural gas is 99% methane. Methane is odorless, but is classified as an "asphyxiant," meaning that in closed spaces and high concentrations it displaces oxygen. The California Public Utilities Commission requires that natural gas be "ordorized" for leak detection. SoCalGas uses sulfur compounds (tetrahydrothiophene and tertiary-butyl mercaptan) in extremely low concentrations (2 parts per billion of air, equivalent to two teaspoons of water in an Olympic-size pool), which creates "very distinct and unpleasant odors." Note: Mercaptan is the odor you smell in rotten eggs, onions and garlic, and for those genetically disposed, the smell in urine after eating asparagus. Image: SoCalGas Aliso Canyon new documents

Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency Jan. 6 for the natural gas well leak at the Aliso Canyon unit maintained by SoCalGas. The storage well is atop a hill that overlooks Porter Ranch, Calif. (pop. 24,923), an affluent community in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

SoCalGas Co., a unit of Sempra Energy, discovered the leak on Oct. 23, 2015. It's believed the well's 7" dia. capped gas pipe is leaking at the 500' level into the space between it and a surrounding cement casing. The casing covers the pipe to the 990' level, at which point the gas is venting out. The pipe extends down to over 8,500' to access the natural gas reservoir.

SoCalGas is doing three things: trying to repair the cracked pipe; building a relief well and a new gas pipeline; and relocating thousands of residents. SoCalGas, however, estimates the leak may not be repaired until the end of March.

Some question the governor's "delay" in announcing a state of emergency, considering that seven state agencies are working on the problem, and that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors declared a state of local emergency back on Dec. 15, 2015. Some media reports claim the delay in an emergency declaration is in part because it means the state is officially taking on the onus of some of the financial responsibility for the "disaster," as nearby homeowners describe it. Meanwhile, Gov. Brown has ordered new safety and inspection measures for all natural gas storage wells in California, including daily inspections of wellheads for leaks via infrared-detection technology, verifying the mechanical integrity of wells, measuring gas flow and pressure, and testing safety valves regularly.

SoCal Gas maintains 47% of the active gas storage wells in the state (160 of 340). The Aliso Canyon facility (source of leak) has a well capacity of 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas, making it one of the largest in the nation. Published estimates vary, but the Calif. Air Resources Board says the well is releasing about 30,000 kilograms of methane per hour. The L.A. times reported that as of Dec. 22, the well had "released the equivalent of 1.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide -- more greenhouse gas emissions than 330,000 passenger vehicles produce in a year."

The California Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, working with federal, state and local authorities, have ordered an independent, third-party analysis of the cause of the leak.

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July 21, 2019, 1:09 pm PDT

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