Methane Gas Leak In California May Impact Climate Change, Porter Ranch Residents Want Facility Closed Down [Video]

John Houck

Video of a methane gas leak in California recently released by the Environment Defense Fund (EDF) reveals a bird's-eye view of an ecological disaster of epic proportions. Discharging as much as 110,000 pounds of methane into the air every hour, the gas leak near the town of Porter Ranch, California, was initially discovered over two months ago and continues to spew out the greenhouse gas.

In a related Inquisitr report, the gas leak from the Aliso Canyon well in Northern Los Angeles County is estimated to be the largest in U.S. history.

With the help from nonprofit organization Earthworks and infrared technology, the EDF video confirms the massive amount of methane, normally invisible to the naked eye, rising out of the ground near Porter Ranch.

The methane gas is leaking from a massive underground storage facility owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas). The facility holds billions of cubic feet of natural gas, which is used to supply 20 million customers.

In late October, the leak was discovered by SoCalGas after an underground well casing failed which allowed pressurized gas to erupt through cracks in the ground near Porter Ranch. The exact cause of the seepage is still being investigated according to company officials.

Both the Los Angeles County Department of Health and SoCalGas say the gas itself poses no threat to human health, yet it is highly flammable. Naturally odorless, methane is treated with chemicals to give it a "rotten-eggs" smell, which can cause headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds.

The odor from the California gas leak has made Porter Ranch a ghost town.

After receiving numerous reports of illnesses, SoCalGas has relocated approximately 2,250 residents to motels since the leak began. The company has also offered home solutions to reduce the smell as well as paying for some residents to permanently move out of the area. On December 22, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer demanded SoCalGas speed up the relocation efforts.

Many community members have already filed lawsuits against the company and are calling for the permanent closure of the facility. In addition to the costs associated with the lawsuits, SoCalGas estimates damages from the natural gas leak will exceed tens of millions of dollars, possibly more.

"These types of gases remain in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than longer-lived climate pollutants, such as carbon dioxide (CO2); but when measured in terms of how they heat the atmosphere, their impacts can be tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide."

Prior to the gas leak, California has put forth legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions altogether. Governor Jerry Brown has been working diligently to impose stricter standards that would prevent future methane leaks from refineries, pipelines, and storage facilities.

Yet the huge gas leak near Porter Ranch is a significant setback to reduce emissions.

"It is one of the biggest leaks we've ever seen reported," said Tim O'Connor, California climate director for the EDF. "It is coming out with force, in incredible volumes. And it is absolutely uncontained."

The gas leak in California has brought national attention to a growing movement to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations nationwide. This past summer, the federal government proposed regulations to reduce methane gas leaks from drilling and storage.

Every year, approximately seven million tons of methane escapes into the air from various industries within the U.S. and much of it goes completely undetected.

"Even large leaks can be hard to find if they occur away from populated areas," said Adam Brandt, assistant professor at Stanford University's Institute for the Environment. "One important step forward for sustainability will be to design ways to quickly detect and fix these large leaks soon after they happen."

Environmental officials say it may be weeks or months before the leak will be sealed and residents can return home. SoCalGas has promised to use all available methods to stop the gas leak in California as quickly as possible.

[Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images]