Natural gas leak: Porter Ranch, California

From Global Energy Monitor

As of December 31, 2015, a natural gas leak outside of Los Angeles at Porter Ranch, was releasing 110,000 pounds per hour for at least two months. The leak was described as the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the BP oil spill. The seeping gas was being released from a storage facility in Porter Ranch owned and operated by Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas, where experts state the leak was being caused by a well casing failure deep underground.[1]

On January 6, 2016 Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch, California because of the gas leak, which has led to thousands of residents leaving their homes.[2] The emergency order increased leak containment efforts and demanded that the well’s owner pay for emissions-reducing projects to offset the disaster. On January 11, 2016, California Senators spearheaded by Sen. Fran Pavley announced a legislative package in response to the leak that, if passed, would enact an emergency moratorium on all operations at the storage facility as well as all operations in the Aliso Canyon Oil Field.[3]

The leak was temporarily stopped on February 11, 2016.[4] It was announced on Feburary 18, 2016 that the leak was permanently capped.[5] However, activists said capping the leak wasn't enough and called for the permanent shut down of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.[6]

Aliso Canyon is one of the largest natural gas storage facilities in the U.S. It can store 86 billion cubic feet.[7] It provides energy for 21 million people.

A University of California, Irvine study found that this was the largest methane leak in U.S. history.[8]

History

The 115 well Aliso Canyon field was originally drilled for oil and gas production in the 1940s and 50s. The leaking well was drilled in 1953. In the early 1970s, the field was depleted and was sold and converted to a natural gas storage facility.[9]

Chemicals Spewing From Gas Leak Near Porter Ranch Might Force Residents From Their Homes.

LA Weekly reported the well had not been inspected since 1976. LA Weekly interviewed Rodger Schwecke, a Southern California Gas executive who claimed the valve from the leaking well was removed in 1979. The paper reported that valve was not required by state regulations. The a safety valve would have been required were a "critical" well, one within 100 feet of a road or a park, or within 300 feet of a home. But, if in place, it could have been used to stop the leak.[10]

According to written testimony from Phillip Baker, Southern California Gas’s director of storage said ultrasonic surveys of storage wells during repair work from 2008 to 2013 found internal and external casing corrosion and mechanical damage in 15 wells.[11]

In 2014, the Aliso Canyon facility emitted 206,268 combined tons of natural gas, carbon dioxide and other pollutants in 2014. This is roughly the equivalent of 43,000 cars driven for a year. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that only two underground fields in the U.S. emitted more.[12]

In 2014 records with the Public Utilities Commission the Southern California Gas showed that of 229 wells at its Aliso Canyon facilities, near Porter Ranch, half were at least 57 years old. Fifty-two of them were at least 70 years old.[13]

Southern California Gas also warned state utility regulators in 2014 of "major failures" without a rate hike to pay for comprehensive inspections of 229 storage wells. The company wrote in a rate filing that 26 of its wells were "high risk" and should be abandoned, although they complied with state regulations. It is unknown whether the leaking well was one of the 26.[14]

There is speculation the leak may have been caused by nearby fracking activities.[15]

The Leak Chronology

September 1 1992: According to documents filed with the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), inspectors reported that they could hear the leak in the storage well through microphones. [16]

2015

October 2015: The Los Angeles Daily News reported state records showed the leaking well, SS 25, was injected for 24 days in October, and was under stress when it failed. Southern California Gas injected and withdrew gas through the entire diameter of the well, rather than only through the narrower tubing that runs down the middle of it. It was on injection through both casing and tubing at the time. The Los Angeles Daily News called the practice legal but risky Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), said: "It’s a practice that we need to look at seriously.” Paul Bommer, from the University of Texas Petroleum Engineering Department: “The safest thing to do is inject and withdraw only through the tubing.”[17]

October 23: Gas company employees noticed an underground leak near well SS-25.[18]

October 24: Gas was now billowing downhill from the well into Porter Ranch.

October 26: Benzene levels hit nearly eight times the regional average, according to a South Coast Air Quality Management District test.[19]

November: The Southern California Gas Co. lab tests indicate benzene concentrations exceeded state guidelines for prolonged exposure seven times in November.[20]

November 7 and 10: The California Energy Commission hired UC Davis scientist, Stephen Conley, to fly over the leak and measure emissions. He recorded 1,200 tons of leaked methane per day, more than 100,000 pounds an hour.[21]

November 13: The Los Angeles Times reported that residents of Porter Ranch reported finding droplets of dark brown residue on their property. SoCal Gas advise nearby residents to stay indoors because fluids pumped into the well had returned to the surface and produced a mist, airborne droplets of a brine solution.[22]

The Los Angeles Times reported that a well control company was attempting to plug a suspected hole in the 7-inch well casing by pumping it with heavier slurries of mud. The mud was pushed against pressurized gas in the well, and the slurry began to find alternative escape routes, forming a growing hole around the well. A hole in the ground opened 20 feet. Gas that had seeped through rock fissures began streaming from the new vent.[23]

November 23: The first class-action suit was filed.

November 25: Likely the last of six "kill attempts," where brine, or heavier liquid, is poured down the well in an effort to stop the leak.[24]

November 28: Methane leaks at the rate of 58,000 kilograms per hour.[25]

December 4: A subsidiary of Halliburton, started drilling a relief well. which is globally renowned in the field of well control. Once the its workers intercept the relief well with the leaking well at 8,500 feet, liquid and cement will go into into the well, thereby sealing it. Then the well will be permanently out of service.[26]

December 23: Stephen Conley recorded 30 tons, or 60,000 pounds of methane per hour.[27]

2016

January 3, 2016: SoCalGas installed net screens, “demister pads,” to contain oily mist at the leaking well.[28]

Changing dynamics deep underground where the natural gas is stored under pressure in the pores of sandstone caused the oily seepage.[29]

January 4: Chief executive officer, Debra Reed, received a stock award worth $13.1 million, the biggest stock payout she’s gotten since Sempra Energy promoted her to the position in June 2011.[30]

Sempre's stock value has dropped 5.5 percent. Bloomberg predicted this was likely due to the leak, impending lawsuits, and clean up costs.

January 6: The Governor declares state of emergency.[31]

The state announces it will develop a program to mitigate the leak's methane emissions. The Southern California Gas Company will fund the program.[32]

January 8: SoCalGas announces it will capture gas, run it through carbon filters, or burn it off.[33]

January 10: The leak has cost the utility company $50 million so far.[34]

January 12: Porter Ranch students relocate to schools out of the community.[35]

Legislators call to shut down old Aliso Canyon wells.

Methane leaks at the rate of 23,400 kilograms per hour. California Air Resources Board suggests the emission rate of the leak is decreasing as the reservoir is being depleted.[36]

January 13: The Los Angeles Daily News reports on the investigation if fracking occurred on the leaking well. A nearby well was fracked.[37]

The paper also reported that a state-commissioned report found that the Aliso Canyon field was a major producer of hydraulically fractured gas. about a third of the gas stored in California reservoirs comes from fracking.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander called on SoCalGas to extend relocation from Porter Ranch to extend neighboring areas in the San Fernando valley.[38]

January 14: Public Utility Commission released a letter questioning whether the methane capture system is safe and mentioned that electric motors in the blowers to be used as part of the system are not explosion-proof and could provide a flammable spark with methane and oxygen.[39]

January 21:Leak releases 18,000 kilograms of methane per hour.[40]

January 27: California Public Utilities Commission announces it is considering shutting down the entire Alison Canyon facility.

Southern California Gas announced said it has temporarily shut down 18 older wells for inspection.[41]

January 28: 90,000 metric tons of methane leaked since October 23, 2015. This is equivalent to 847,000 million gallons of gas.[42]

February 3: The Los Angeles County District Attorney served Southern California Gas with four misdemeanor charges. The DA accused the gas company of failing to warn of hazards materials until three days after the leak began.[43]

February 4:An adviser to Governor Brown announced the leak could be plugged as early as mid February.[44]

Late February 2016: Estimated date when the leak will be contained.[45][46]

February 11: Gas release is temporarily stopped as relief well reaches base of leak where heavy fluids are temporarily control the flow of the leak.[4]

February 18: It was announced that the leak was permanently capped.[5]

Environment

As of January 5th 2016 the leaking Aliso Canyon had released more than 77,000 metric tons of methane. Methane is more than 80 times more powerful in climate change than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.[47]

Methane is capable of trapping solar radiation in the atmosphere. It doesn't last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but more effective at trapping heat.[48]

From October 2015 to January 2016 the leaking well has doubled the methane emissions of the Los Angeles Basin. It has surpassed methane emissions of all industry in the state. [49]

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, near Porter Ranch, set up gas-detecting instruments across the Los Angeles basin and atop Mt. Wilson. They has detected increases in methane levels as far away as Orange County and San Clemente Island.[50]

Benzene levels in the Porter Ranch community have spiked since leak began.[51]

According to Stephen Rappaport, professor of environmental health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, who has studied benzene for 20 years, said that exposure of eight hours a day, up to seven days a week, may decrease blood cell counts.[52]

Health

Porter Ranch residents have complained of headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds and nausea.[53]

Mercaptan added to allow gas to be detected by smell has sickened residents more than a mile away.[54] Mercaptan is responsible for many health symptoms as nausea and headaches.[55]

According to the findings of a Los Angeles county public health survey released on February 8, 2016, a third of 600 households complained of bloody noses.[56]

Unclear if some illness are caused by hydrogen sulfide.[57]

Mel Suffet, professor in the UCLA Department of Environmental Health Sciences, said methyl mercaptan, one of the odorants found in Aliso Canyon gas, may convert to hydrogen sulfide under the right circumstance.[58]

The underground conditions in a former oil field such as Aliso Canyon would be a potential environment for the mercaptan conversion, Suffet claims that could be one of the causes of hydrogen sulfide.[59]

Between October 23rd 2015 and January 10th, 2016, there were 1600 odor complaints from local residents.[60]

A study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District released in January 2016 noted that benzene emissions from the Porter Ranch leak were similar to levels of benzene found throughout the Los Angeles Basin. As such, cancer risks associated with benzene emissions were similar to the other areas tested.[61]

According to a January 2, 2016 news report, 6,500 families have applied for relocation help. Only 2,200 families have been relocated so far.[62]

Regulation

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) put the blame of the Porter Ranch leak problems related to the state's the bureaucracy regulating oil drilling, the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program.[63]

LA Weekly reported that Steve Bohlen, head of DOGGR when the leak began, had said that it did not appear that the gas company violated any regulations.[64]

Lawsuits

On November 23, the first class-action suit was filed in regard to the Porter Ranch gas leak.[65]

As of January 9th, 25 lawsuits against Southern California Gas Company have been filed. An article in the Los Angeles Times estimated the lawsuits could cause the gas company billions of dollars. The Los Angeles Times reported that the company told the SEC that it has insurance that will cover the claims, losses, and litigation.[66]

In December 2015, the city attorney's office filed a civil lawsuit against the Southern California Gas company over the leak. On Monday January 11, attorneys for Los Angeles County also signed onto the case.[67]

January 26, 2016 the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the government agency that regulates Southern California’s air quality, filed a civil complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Southern California Gas Company. The regulator alleges Southern California Gas Company committed multiple health and safety violations and endangered the public. The suit seeks up to $250,000 in fines for each day of the violation.[68]

Porter Ranch resident, 79 year old Zelda Rothman, died January 25, 2016. The family filed wrongful death lawsuit against parent company Sempra for hastening the death of already sick Rothman.[69]

Resources

References

  1. "A California Gas Leak Is the Biggest Environmental Disaster Since the BP Oil Spill" Gizmodo, December 28, 2015.
  2. "Brown declares state of emergency at Porter Ranch amid massive gas leak" Alice Walton and John Myers, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2016.
  3. "AM Alert: Assembly formally elects Anthony Rendon as next speaker" Alexei Koseff, Sacramento Bee, January 11, 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Gas leak at Porter Ranch well is stopped -- at least temporarily" Louis Sahagun, Alice Walton and Abby SewellContact Reporters, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Porter Ranch gas leak permanently capped, officials say" Alice Walton, Hailey Branson-Potts and Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2016.
  6. "Residents rally against SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon storage field" Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News, February 23, 2016
  7. "Utility is installing screens to contain oily mist at leaking well near Porter Ranch" Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2016.
  8. "California gas well blowout caused nation's largest methane release, study finds" University of California, Irvine, February 25, 2016.
  9. Attorneys Claim Greed was a Factor in the Socalgas Leak in Porter Ranch" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 5, 2015.
  10. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  11. "SoCal Gas Knew Aliso Canyon Wells Were Deteriorating a Year Before Leak" Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News, January 28, 2016.
  12. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Daily News, February 12, 2016.
  13. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  14. "EXCLUSIVE-California gas leak spotlights shoddy regulation of aging storage wells" Rueters, CNBC, January 22, 2016.
  15. "Fracking may be linked to Porter Ranch gas leak" Maya Golden-Krasner, Sacramento Bee, January 21, 2015.
  16. "The Company Behind LA's Methane Disaster Knew Its Well Was Leaking 24 Years Ago" Melissa Cronin, Motherboard, January 8, 2016.
  17. "Porter Ranch methane well was under stress when it failed" Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Daily News, January 8, 2016.
  18. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  19. "Experts: Porter Ranch residents exposed to carcinogen from gas leak" Ingrid Lobet, Los Angeles Daily News, January 19, 2016.
  20. "Experts: Porter Ranch residents exposed to carcinogen from gas leak" Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Daily News, January 8, 2016.
  21. "UCD pilot finds Porter Ranch methane emissions sky-high" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  22. "Utility is installing screens to contain oily mist at leaking well near Porter Ranch" Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2016.
  23. "Blowout fears rise with weakened wellhead" Page St. John, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2016.
  24. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Kat Kerlin, The Davis Enterprise, January 08, 2016.
  25. "Methane leak from broken Porter Ranch gas well slows" Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News, January 12, 2016.
  26. "Porter Ranch Gas Leak FAQ" Jason Kandel, NBC Los Angeles, January 19, 2016.
  27. "UCD pilot finds Porter Ranch methane emissions sky-high" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  28. "Utility is installing screens to contain oily mist at leaking well near Porter Ranch" Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2016.
  29. "Oily mist surfaces at Porter Ranch gas leak as well pressure drops" Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News, January 5, 2016.
  30. "After CEO Nabs Record Bonus, Sempra's Gas Leak Raises Questions" Anders Melin and Alicia Ritcey, Bloomberg, January 10, 2016.
  31. "Brown declares state of emergency at Porter Ranch amid massive gas leak" Alice Walton and John Myers, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2016.
  32. "The California gas leak that prompted a state of emergency, explained" David Roberts, Vox, January 11, 2016.
  33. "Socal Gas To Attempt Capturing Porter Ranch Gas, Burning It Off" Jory Rand, CBS News, January 8, 2016.
  34. "Invisible disaster drives people from upscale LA-area community" Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2016.
  35. "Everything you need to know about the Porter Ranch school relocation" Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2016.
  36. "Methane leak from broken Porter Ranch gas well slows" Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News, January 12, 2016.
  37. "Regulators probing whether fracking was connected to Aliso Canyon gas well leak" Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News, January 13, 2016.
  38. "The LA Gas Leak Is Scarier Than We Thought" Maddie Stone, Gizmodo, January 14, 2016.
  39. "Regulators fear attempts to burn off leaking gas near Porter Ranch could lead to explosion" Page St. John and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2016.
  40. "Fast-acting methane from Aliso Canyon leak is boosting global warming" Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2016.
  41. "SoCal Gas Knew Aliso Canyon Wells Were Deteriorating a Year Before Leak" Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News, January 28, 2016.
  42. "SoCal Gas Knew Aliso Canyon Wells Were Deteriorating a Year Before Leak" Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News, January 28, 2016.
  43. "L.A. County files criminal charges over Porter Ranch gas leak" Paige St. John and Alice Walton, Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2016.
  44. "Official: Massive LA-area gas leak could be capped in a week" Brian Melley, Associated Press, February 5, 2016.
  45. "The California gas leak that prompted a state of emergency, explained" David Roberts, Vox, January 11, 2016.
  46. "Porter Ranch Gas Leak Will Be Stopped By End of February, Utility Says" Kelly Goff, NBC Southern California, January 19, 2016.
  47. "A single gas well leak is California's biggest contributor to climate change" Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, January 5, 2016.
  48. "The California gas leak that prompted a state of emergency, explained" David Roberts, Vox, January 11, 2016.
  49. "Fast-acting methane from Aliso Canyon leak is boosting global warming" Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2016.
  50. "Fast-acting methane from Aliso Canyon leak is boosting global warming" Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2016.
  51. "Utility May Have Understated Health Threat From Porter Ranch Gas Leak" CBS Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2016.
  52. "Experts: Porter Ranch residents exposed to carcinogen from gas leak" Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Daily News, January 8, 2016.
  53. "A single gas well leak is California's biggest contributor to climate change" Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, January 5, 2016.
  54. "Regulators fear attempts to burn off leaking gas near Porter Ranch could lead to explosion" Page St. John and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2016.
  55. "Fast-acting methane from Aliso Canyon leak is boosting global warming" Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2016.
  56. "What caused nosebleeds in Porter Ranch? New questions emerge" Mike Reicher and Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, February 8, 2016.
  57. "What caused nosebleeds in Porter Ranch? New questions emerge" Mike Reicher and Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, February 8, 2016.
  58. "What caused nosebleeds in Porter Ranch? New questions emerge" Mike Reicher and Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, February 8, 2016.
  59. "What caused nosebleeds in Porter Ranch? New questions emerge" Mike Reicher and Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, February 8, 2016.
  60. "Porter Ranch residents demand that Aliso Canyon gas facility be shut down" Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2016.
  61. "Benzene risk from Porter Ranch gas leak is the same as rest of region, study finds" Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2016.
  62. "Huge California gas leak could take months to fix" CBS News, January 2, 2016.
  63. "Porter Ranch Gas Leak Linked to California's Broken UIC Program" Briana Mordick, Switchboard NRDC, January 5, 2016.
  64. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  65. "What Went Wrong at Porter Ranch?" Gene Maddas, LA Weekly, December 22, 2015.
  66. "Utility May Face Big Bill" Ivan Penn, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2016.
  67. "Lawmaker seeks closure of older Aliso Canyon gas wells until they're inspected" Alice Walton, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2016.
  68. "Negligence by Southern California Gas Co. led to massive Porter Ranch-area gas leak, AQMD says" Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016.
  69. "Wrongful death lawsuit filed against SoCalGas over Porter Ranch gas leak" Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, February January 26, 2016.

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