An unchecked natural gas leak from a storage facility near Los Angeles, California is turning out to be a significant ecological disaster, state officials and experts have warned.
A rupture within a large underground methane containment system has been leaking gas at a rate of up to 110,000 pounds (nearly 50 tons) per hour since it was detected two months ago, California officials confirm.
Infrared imaging shows a volcano-like plume of gas venting out of a hilltop in the Aliso Canyon in Orange County .
Scientists and environmental experts say the leak instantly became the biggest single source of methane emissions in all of California when it began two months ago.
Besides being explosive, methane is also a powerful greenhouse gas. Environmentalists say that, over a 20-year period, the leak’s greenhouse effect since its onset equals the emissions of 7 million cars or six coal-fired power plants.
So far, 1,700 homes and two schools have been evacuated in Porter Ranch, about 20 miles from Los Angeles, due to high methane concentration in the air.
Southern California Gas Co (SoCalGas), the owner of the underground storage, has been ordered by court to provide all relocated families with temporary housing.
Some of the facility’s neighbors have already filed lawsuits against the company, part of a growing outcry that is pressuring the company to close the facility altogether.
The gas company has pledged to “execute all possible efforts” to stop the leak.
“SoCalGas recognized the impact this incident is having on the environment,” company president Dennis V. Arriola said in a letter last week to Governor Jerry Brown.
The facility contains billions of cubic feet of pressurized natural gas to supply the company’s more than 20 million customers. SoCalGas has already lost millions of dollars as a result.