The ongoing natural gas leak in the Los Angeles, California area that’s been spewing methane into the air since October 23 may finally be plugged by the end of this week, according to Wade Crowfoot, a senior advisor to the governor’s office. However, others warn it might take a bit longer, perhaps until the end of February. That’s still an improvement over previous estimates, which put the date at the end of March instead. So far, nearly 95,000 metric tons of methane have escaped from the well into the atmosphere, causing untold environmental damage and causing health problems in people living nearby.

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Ending the environmental catastrophe has proved to be a major challenge for SoCalGas, the company responsible for the well. After initial efforts to block off the leak by flushing the well with fluid failed, the company began drilling a relief well in December. The problem with this approach is mainly that the leaky portion of the well is located over 8,000 feet beneath the ground — not exactly within easy reach. The situation has become so dire that California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last month.

The goal is for the relief well to intercept the original well, then pump water and mud into the hole to stop the flow of gas. Then, the entire thing will be sealed off with cement. On February 4th, the drill operation had already reached a depth of 8,560 feet, so it should be able to enter the final phase soon. SoCalGas maintains that they would rather take their time and ensure that the leak is plugged safely and effectively, rather than rush to shut down the well.

Related: Ongoing gas leak in CA forces utility to install mesh screens in an attempt to trap oily mist

In the months that the leak has been active, more than 4,400 nearby residents have been forced to evacuate their homes — at SoCalGas’s expense. Many reported symptoms of dizziness, nausea, and nosebleeds from exposure to the gas. The utility will continue to pay short-term housing costs for the displaced residents for 8 days after the well has been declared sealed.

Via Gizmodo

Images via Earthworks and CalOES/Governor’s Office of Emergency Services