A California utility is using mesh screens as splatter guards to prevent an oily mist from escaping a leaking natural gas well. The Aliso Canyon well, located near Los Angeles, has been leaking since October and endangering local residents. During construction to repair the leak, the Southern California Gas Company pumped fluids into the well, only to find that those fluids had returned to the surface and an oily mist was emerging from the site. Residents have been protesting regularly, claiming the utility company and local authorities have further endangered public health by failing to act in a timely fashion.
Southern California Gas Co. officials confirmed Monday that workers are installing mesh screens flat over the surface of the well in an effort to reduce pollution from the leak. The natural gas leak, which was first discovered on October 23, has displaced thousands of residents in neighboring communities, as methane emissions caused illnesses in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, situated in the affluent San Fernando Valley. That area had previously been known for having some of the cleanest air in the city.
The gas company installed a 60-foot section of the mesh on Sunday to contain airborne droplets of a brine solution that “may have contained trace amounts of oil naturally occurring within the leaking well’s reservoir,” Trisha Muse, a spokeswoman for SoCal Gas, told the LA Times. That mist, she said, “may have been carried by the wind to properties immediately adjacent to the facility, particularly when very strong winds blow in that direction.” Indeed, nearby residents noticed a dark brown residue on their homes, vehicles, and elsewhere on their properties. The utility company claims it tested the residue and found it “contained heavier hydrocarbons (similar to motor oil) but does not pose a health risk.”
As recently as December 23, infrared video captured by the Environmental Defense Fund shows methane continue to spew from the well site. Some residents have filed lawsuits against the utility company, alleging that the company removed an emergency shut-off valve that could have prevented the widespread contamination. The continuing problems with contamination are a side effect of the company’s efforts to clean up the initial leak and repair the well, a project which is expected to last for several months.