The massive natural gas leak discovered in October at a Southern California Gas Company facility in Aliso Canyon just keeps getting worse. Engineers have so far been unable to plug the leaky pipe casing or even slow the flow of gas by flushing the well with fluid. Now the company is telling reporters it may take until February or March for a relief well to be completed, allowing engineers to cut the gas off at the source.
So why is the leak taking so long to plug? The main reason is simply how deep the well is buried. The base of the well sits 8,000 feet underground, making it very difficult to reach or plug due to the amount of pressure from the leaking gas. Efforts to drill a relief well still have a long way to go: so far, the new well reaches less than halfway, only 3,800 feet.
The well has continued to belch 110,000 pounds of natural gas into the atmosphere every hour, adding up to over 150 million pounds. If those numbers don’t scare you, the infrared aerial footage taken on 17 December, 2016 will. The video (below) shows a massive cloud of gas billowing out of the site and blanketing the surrounding countryside. Watching the footage, it’s easy to see why thousands of nearby homes have already been forced to evacuate due to health concerns. So far, more than 2,200 households have been relocated and another 2,600 are in the process.
As awful as it is that so many people have been forced from their homes, that’s not even the worst consequence of this leak. The main component of natural gas, methane, is a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates the impact of the leak on the environment is equivalent to the emissions from 7 million cars — and that’s per day, not overall. Because of the enormous size of the leak, environmental advocates say it’s impossible to fully estimate the effect on the environment until it’s over.