The California Gas Leak Ends, but It’s a Rough Week for Environmentalists
Policy + Politics

The California Gas Leak Ends, but It’s a Rough Week for Environmentalists


In a gloomy week for environmentalists, a beleaguered southern California utility company provided a ray of light on Thursday when it temporarily capped a massive, runaway natural gas leak that has spewed more than two million tons of methane gas into the air above the San Fernando Valley.

The gloom for environmentalists and the Obama administration came on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants – the so-called Clean Power Plan. Obama’s signature climate-change initiative is now on hold pending a lower court ruling on a challenge to the program from 29 states and a handful of corporations and energy industry groups.

Related: Did a Bad Decision 40 Years Ago Lead to the California Gas Leak Disaster

As The New York Times noted, the high court has never before granted a request to halt a government regulation before it had been reviewed by a federal appeals court. Obama has been counting on the Clean Power Plan to help meet the country’s commitment to a global effort to reduce global warming. Now it is likely that Obama will be long gone from office before the court challenge is resolved.

But the president can join Gov. Jerry Brown of California in cheering for the victory of finally capping the gas leak.

The blowout of the major natural gas storage facility last October in the suburban Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch displaced thousands of families, closed two schools and created arguably the worst environmental catastrophe since the 2010 BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast. Southern California utility officials said at the time there was no way to staunch the rupture for at least several months.

And as the gas escaped into the air at a rate of nearly 1,300 metric tons a day, workers and residents who remained in the area complained of headaches, nose bleeds and nausea from the putrid smelling gas. But a larger concern was what all that escaping methane would do to the environment.

Related: Why the Gas Leak in California No One Is Talking About Is Such a Disaster

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gas emissions and is a major contributor to global warming. Scientists and environmental experts said that the Aliso Canyon leak became the biggest single source of methane emissions in all of California practically overnight when it began Oct. 23. Environmentalists said early this year that the impact of the greenhouse gases released since then, when projected out over 20 years, is equal to the emissions from six coal-fired power plants or 7 million cars, according to The Washington  Post.

The leak was finally stopped after SoCalGas crews built a parallel relief well to divert the escaping gas, but the company said in a statement that it must continue to work on a permanent seal to the faulty well. “We have temporarily controlled the natural gas flow from the leaking well and begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak,” said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, in a written statement.

Here’s the latest Los Angeles Times report on the successful capping of the well.