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California Issues State of Emergency for Massive Natural Gas Leak

A natural gas well in the Los Angeles area has been spewing methane into the atmosphere for 10 weeks and is now the state's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Photo by Dean Musgrove/AP

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California Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency declaration on Wednesday in order to better coordinate state efforts to address a 10-week-old blowout at a Los Angeles-area natural gas well that has become California's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and forced the evacuation of 2,500 residents.


The proclamation directs state agencies to make efforts to protect public health and safety, investigate the cause of the leak, and enhance oversight of natural gas storage facilities.

The ruptured well at Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon storage reservoir has been belching gas into the atmosphere since October 23 at a rate of 62 million cubic feet a day — more than a quarter of the state's daily emissions of methane, according to the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It may take several more weeks for the leak to be capped.

That makes it California's largest single source of greenhouse gases, California Air Resources Board spokesman David Clegern told The Guardian this week. And since methane packs a far harsher global warming punch than carbon dioxide, the EDF says all that gas has an effect on climate comparable to the emissions coming from 7 million cars a day. Methane has eighty times the heat-trapping capacity as carbon dioxide over a twenty-year time period.

The environmental group has warned that natural gas leaks from aging wells and pipelines are an overlooked source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are driving global warming.

"The Aliso Canyon incident is an example of the type of risks we face as natural gas infrastructure ages, and is a sobering reminder of how important it is to have rules that ensure gas stays in the pipeline — not in our air," the EDF notes on its website.

The state emergency management agency said Tuesday that a relief well aimed at cutting off the leak has reached more than 4,900 feet — better than halfway to its expected final depth of 8,500 to 8,700 feet. SoCal Gas said the leak poses no immediate threat to public safety, but it's providing temporary housing for people in a nearby neighborhood because of the smell.

"We are committed to working as safely and quickly as possible to stop the leak," the company said.

Related: This Gas Is Worse for the Climate Than Carbon Dioxide — And It's Leaking All Over the Place