A well in Southern California’s Aliso Canyon leaked more than 96,000 metric tons of methane gas for more than four months. The response of the owners of this well, Southern California Gas Company came under increasing pressure from residents and environmentalists that observed in terror what seemed to be the slow motion actions to put an end to the disaster. According to reports the cause of the leak can be linked to failing infrastructure (a theme consistent with the lead poisoned water of Flint, Michigan). Aliso Canyon Natural Storage Facility’s Standard Sesnon Well 25 succumbed to corrosion leading to the leak of greenhouse gases into the environment and physical symptoms in the people of surrounding neighborhoods. Now that the leak has been temporarily stopped, more work needs to be done to ensure the permanent stop to the gas leak in this corroded well.

The leak is expected to cost Southern California Gas $250 million dollars. That figure could climb much higher because it only accounts for costs of capping the well and relocating about 6,400 families. It does not include potential damages from more than two dozen lawsuits, penalties from government agencies and expenses to mitigate pollution

What is methane?

Methane is a colorless and odorless gas with extreme potential for greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. It is the main component of natural gas that is used as combustive fuel. Most importantly, in its natural gas state it is widely used in the generation of electricity in a gas turbine or steam generator. Methane is found and stored underground. Odorant additives are included in the storage of methane in order to aid in the detection of its leak into the atmosphere. These additives are the cause of the nausea, headaches, respiratory problems and nosebleeds in the residents in Porter Ranch that were relocated as a result of the leak.

What are the effects of methane exposure?

Even though methane gas is non-toxic it is extremely flammable and has been known to cause explosions on interaction with atmospheric air. In addition, methane has the potential to displace the oxygen from the air in an enclosed space. This phenomenon can lead to suffocation, known as asphyxia if the gas is generously inhaled. Most people can tolerate a displacement of oxygen leading to a reduction of oxygen from 21% to 16% partial pressure. However, below 16% asphyxia can set in that may lead to decreased oxygenation of the body’s organs leading to coma and death. Prevention of methane gas exposure is the best route to avoid these consequences.

Disastrous Results

Considering the quantity of methane gas that was leaked during the failure of the well, California is now bracing for periods of electrical grid blackouts. With significant losses of the fuel that generates electricity for the surrounding communities. In addition, the leak has only been temporarily sealed. Until the permanent seal is applied to the well there is still risk of the leak reopening. Reports from LA Times also state that many of the wells of the Southern California Gas Company located in the storage facility of Aliso County are damaged and structurally corroded. The short term and long term effects of this disaster are staggering. And it is an example of how oversight and under-supervision can lead to important safety guidelines slipping through the cracks. It is imperative to have a skilled staff person dedicated to ensuring the safety of your personnel and the people impacted by the work that you do.