California Alert! Largest Release of Methane In California’s History Can’t Be Stopped
A giant stream of potent climate-warming gas — methane — is blowing hundreds of feet into the air in Los Angeles County for the seventh week. The release cancels out hundreds of smaller efforts over more than a decade to clamp down on escapes of the gas, a priority because in the short term, methane is a far more powerful climate-warming gas than carbon dioxide.
Pilots flying low have been told by the Federal Aviation Administration to stay clear of the plume for fear of ignition. More than 1,800 families have sought relocation due to the vapors. Southern California Gas Co. officials say it will be months before it can be stopped.
The mainly methane gas is pouring out of the ground near a damaged well used to inject gas into an old sandstone oil field for storage.
“I think what we are seeing is probably one of the single largest releases of methane in California history,” said Tim O’Connor, who used to inspect major facilities like refineries for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and works for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Infrared images like this are making it possible to see the massive escape of methane and other gases from the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Field in Los Angeles County, Dec. 9, 2015.
“People I speak with who are experts in the field say this is the biggest, most complex leak that they have ever seen.”
Authorities estimate the rupture in the well, perhaps more than a mile deep, is sending 100,000 pounds of methane into the air per hour. Methane traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide during its approximately 20-year stay in the atmosphere, giving it an outsize role in rising sea levels and disrupted weather.