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Methane Spews Unchecked From Underground Storage Facility In LA Area

Photo credit: SoCal Gas

A partial view of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles County.

Photo credit: Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

Natural gas is often stored underground in salt caverns, aquifers or depleted gas or oil fields like the facility at Aliso Canyon. This graph shows how much gas is currently being stored underground in each state as of September 2015 (the most recent month available). Data source: Energy Information Administration.

A giant leak at a natural gas storage facility in the Los Angeles area is reversing many of the efforts of California industry, businesses and schools to comply with increasingly stringent emissions rules.

Very large quantities of the potent climate changing gas methane are escaping from a well that is part of an extensive underground gas storage site serving Southern California. More than 300 people have had to leave their homes.

Southern California Gas Co., a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, has 115 gas storage wells at the Aliso Canyon site, near Porter Ranch. It stores gas in the summer and distributes it in the winter out of a sandstone formation that was tapped for oil a century ago.

Dennis Arriola, president and CEO of Southern California Gas, said it will take at least three months to stop the releases, which began more than a month ago.

The gas, under pressure, is gushing at such a rate — more than 44,000 kilograms per hour — that the California Air Resources Board estimated it is increasing the entire state’s methane emissions by 25 percent.

Company officials said the gas flow stems from a damaged 7-inch diameter well casing.

Authorities ranging from the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District to the United Nations are focused on reducing methane because its ability to alter climate during its brief 20-year sojourn in the atmosphere is roughly 70 times stronger than carbon dioxide. The principal sources of methane are agriculture, landfills and the oil and gas industry.

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