Jan 18, 2016
When a natural gas storage well in Porter Ranch, Los Angeles started to massively leak natural gas on October 23, the well’s owner, the Southern California Gas Company, refused to admit that there was a leak. And it continued to deny anything was wrong for five more days, despite the fact that about 70,000 pounds of methane and other chemicals were spewing into the air every hour.
After it grudgingly admitted to the leak, the Gas Company and county health officials still assured the residents that it posed no long-term health risks. It took six long weeks of residents complaining of nausea, dizziness, massive nose bleeds, as well as eye, ear and throat infections, for health officials to finally admit that the leak may have long-term health consequences far beyond the region. Long-term exposure to the chemicals in the gas leak, like benzene, is known to cause cancer.
Not spending money on necessary maintenance and upkeep of the gas storage facility is what caused the environmental disaster in the first place. The source of the leak is a 61-year-old metal pipe that runs 8,750 feet deep. The pipe has obviously corroded, which is what happens to old pipes that have huge amounts of gas and liquids running through them at high pressure. The company didn’t even replace a safety valve at the base of the pipe that it had removed in 1979, with the blessings of the state regulators. A safety valve would have shut off that leak almost immediately.
Old, decrepit equipment and infrastructure is the rule. The leaking well is part of the second biggest gas storage facility in the country, which includes 229 wells scattered over five square miles. Half of the wells are over 57 years old, and 52 wells are more than 70 years old. And most of those old wells have no safety valves.
Anneliese Anderle, a field engineer who used to monitor the giant gas storage facility for the state regulator, told the Los Angeles Weekly, “They have a beautiful facility. It’s gleaming. They have great roads and well-marked pipelines. Everything’s painted. But just below the surface, it’s junk.”
Old and dangerous junk that the Gas Company squeezes massive amounts of profits out of – with the blessings of government officials, state regulators and politicians.