A Special Report on the SoCalGas Natural Gas Leak at Aliso CanyonPosted on February 3, 2016 by https://dublinsmick.wordpress.com
cosmicconvergenceCalifornia Faces Its Greatest Manmade Environmental Catastrophe of the
Slow-motion methane leak disaster at Aliso Canyon, California
Remarkable Parallels to the BP Gulf Oil Spill[url=http://www.greenmedinfo.com/gmi-blogs/GMI Research Group]GreenMedInfo Research Group[/url]
The ongoing natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon, California is no ordinary leak.
Just like the BP Gulf oil spill, this disaster has made the nation aware that gas leaks are far more common than otherwise known.The Aliso Canyon gas leak (also called Porter Ranch gas leak) is a massive, uncontrolled, ongoing leak from a natural gas well connected to the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles, California since October 23, 2015. The second largest gas storage facility of its kind in the United States belongs to the Southern California Gas Company, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy. On January 6, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency.
In fact, natural gas leakage is expected for a high percentage of fracking and other drilling sites. It’s actually unavoidable in some circumstances because of the various technologies and techniques which are used to extract natural gas around the USA.
Each natural gas drilling or fracking context presents its own unique set of challenges. Some are very difficult, some are quite easy and there are a lot in between. The more challenging the drilling or fracking operation the greater the likelihood that things will go wrong. Things going wrong in the drilling business is an accepted fact of life and not really considered problematic. This is why gas leakage is simply considered a part of the process, as well as an environmental cost of doing business.
This predicament is quite similar to what the BP Gulf oil spill was responsible for making the public grimly aware of — that oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are actually quite common and occurring all the time. Undersea oil wells can be breached in a number of ways, even after they have been capped. Once they spring a leak, they can release hydrocarbon effluent for years on end without being noticed. They are rarely, if ever, reported by drillers since they are out of sight, out of mind. Who, after all, is going to happen upon a leaking well that is say 3500 feet under water in the GOM?
Now consider how easy it is for the Oil & Gas Industry to accidentally fail or purposely neglect to report natural gas leaks from their active and inactive operations. They can come and go without so much as an iota of evidence left behind. When attempting to determine whether any given well has been leaking methane, the only thing that can be done is to monitor it in real time. The volume of gas leaked can then be ascertained through a variety of methods.
In reality, massive methane emissions are now a highly tolerated “cost of doing business” industrywide. Despite the fact that methane is considered the most powerful greenhouse gas (GHG), there is very little regulation or enforcement in this regard. Corporate oversight is even more lax as the inordinate push to make the USA completely energy independent has consistently overridden safety concerns and environmental damage.
The following chart clearly illustrates by company the methane emissions due to industrial operations during 2014. It should be noted that since the well blowout at Aliso Canyon, the methane output has made that site the largest methane producer in the country. The leak has also put the state of California on the global methane map in a major way ………….
Graph: Jonathan Thompson. Data: California Air Resources Board, EPA, LT Environmental.
Aliso Canyon: What’s the back story?With all this background information it must be stated that the SoCalGas leak at Aliso Canyon had nothing to do with recent fracking or drilling operations. Rather, this leak is coming from an old gas well that is over 8500 feet deep. The other relevant details are as follows:
What is crucial to understand about the currently out-of-control leak under management by the Southern California Gas Company (aka SoCalGas) is that it is directly connected to “field that can hold 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas”. Various researchers, including the GreenMedInfo Research Group, have been attempting to verify the vulnerability of the 2nd largest storage facility of its kind to this intractable leak. Heretofore, we have been unsuccessful in confirming this critical issue.The source of the leak is a metal pipe in a breached 7-inch casing of injection well SS 25 that is 8,750 feet deep. The field can hold 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas and is the second largest storage facility of its kind in the United States. Well SS 25 had been drilled in 1953 and was initially provided with a safety valve. The safety valve was removed in 1979 as it was old and leaking. Because the well was not considered “critical, that is, one within 100 feet of a road or a park, or within 300 feet of a home”, the valve was only removed and not replaced. The atmospheric scientist Steve Conley said the wellhead in Aliso Canyon was 61 years old and implied it was no “shock that it failed”.
So, the real question is how did this leak develop into the worst of its kind in American history? The facts of this case have literally been leaking out into the public since the blown well first began releasing natural gas on Oct. 23rd. The initial response from SoCalGas was predictably defensive and dissembling at first as they had every reason to know exactly where the leaking gas was coming from. Instead of full disclosure on the matter, SoCalGas led the residents of upscale Porter Ranch to believe that everything was okay, even going so far as to go “from home to home to home, giving everybody the A-OK and […] didn’t admit to having a gas leak until … probably around the 28th of October”.
The company knew all along that they had a major gas leak on their hands and that, once the news got out, there would be only one alternative for those living near ground zero—EVACUATION. This is exactly what thousands of families have been forced to do, over 2800 households to date. There are another 6500 plus families still in process. When is the last time that 10,000 households were relocated for any type of manmade disaster?! That’s how bad a single natural gas leak can be.
That it took almost two and a half months to officially declare an emergency is also quite suspect in the eyes of many. Governor Jerry Brown’s sister sits on the board of Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCalGas There is much speculation throughout the LA area that the catastrophe was deliberately hushed up because of the sheer enormity and severity of the problem. SoCalGas has known about this well gone bad for many years and deliberately chose to take the path of least resistance at every juncture.
In light of the fact that there was prior knowledge of faulty and inadequate equipment at the site, SoCalGas currently has legal exposure and financial liability that far exceed anything ever experienced by an American utility. Depending on how long it takes for a durable repair to be made, that liability will only grow with each passing day. Every week that families are kept out of their homes puts extraordinary pressure on both the utility and the government. Hence, a permanent resolution must be found quickly lest the state be sued for negligent oversight and regulatory violations. Both of these are clearly evident from the evidence that has been made available.
What was the exact cause of the leak?
The preceding diagram clearly delineates the suspected cause of the leak. Because the natural gas is escaping continuously at a point that is 990 feet underground, the best alternative was to drill a relief well beyond that depth. That relief well is being drilled at a depth of almost 8500 feet in order to cut off the flow of natural gas just above the natural gas reservoir. Because this reservoir is the largest of it type in the western U.S., it holds a volume of gas that will leak uninterruptedly for an inordinate period of time.Last fall, a 7-inch injection well pipe ruptured 500 feet below the surface of Los Angeles, after ferrying natural gas for six decades.
Again, just like the BP oil spill, the SoCalGas gas leak was caused by the Perfect Storm. In both cases it was a series of human errors and corporate neglect together with aging infrastructure which conspired to trigger the leak. SoCalGas clearly did what many energy companies do: they “operate to failure”. BP was famous for this company policy whereby undersea oil drilling operations were conducted under extremely risky circumstances.
Similarly, the old well known as Standard Sesnon 25 in Aliso Canyon, which was drilled in 1953, also showed definite signs of leakage in 1992. Rather than take all the necessary precautions SoCalGas did quite the opposite, even though “they could hear the leak through bore hole microphones”. In other words a 25-year-old leak was treated as though it didn’t even exist. Continuing to conduct the operations as usual in such a dangerous situation is what is referred to in the business as “operating to failure”.
Hence, it is the standard operating procedures themselves which give rise to these periodic oil spills and gas leaks. The Oil & Gas Industry has been given cover by the U.S. Government over many decades. All of the involved regulatory agencies are staffed with former industry officials just as federal bureaucrats often go to work for the energy companies. The incestuous relationship has only gotten more so with each passing year as the checks and balances are inevitably eroded.
The SoCalGas leak also occurred as a result of technospheric breakdown. It’s well known throughout the industry that the aging infrastructure which includes storage facilities and conduits are under constant stress. The wear and tear eventually take a toll on the infrastructure much more quickly than the companies are willing to address the ever-worsening deficiencies.
The Oil & Gas Industry is also becoming much more aggressive in the application of their new techniques and technologies. They are drilling deeper wells and pushing their machinery and equipment harder. Some of the gas fields that are developed present highly speculative and precarious circumstances which ought to set off a large flashing red light. Instead, the companies push ahead in the face of formidable obstacles like they did with Well SS-25. The well should have been taken completely out of operation when it was determined it was leaking 25 years ago. The following document constitutes a record of the “Noise and Temperature Survey” in which the leaking was confirmed.
What this response indicates is that the state of affairs throughout the industry is quite apathetic toward these types of events. First, gas leaks happen all the time and have become so commonplace that it takes a big one — a real BIG one — for the industry to take them seriously. The core problem then is really systemic and a part of the very culture. Only a truly catastrophic event like the SoCalGas leak will get enough attention to shift the status quo in the right direction.Gene Nelson, a professor of physical science at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California who has seen the document, said that he found it “appalling that SoCalGas did not identify this as a well to shut off,” after receiving this feedback.
Another reason for the SoCalGas perfect storm showing up in Aliso Canyon is that the company didn’t spend its allocated funds properly. Any defective or non-working safety valves in Well SS-25 should have been replaced using the state-approved funds which are specifically appropriated for that purpose. The funds were not used in that manner, which ought to have triggered a formal investigation. As follows:
The technospheric breakdown component of this historic leak cannot be overestimated. The nation’s natural gas pipelines and storage facilities are getting older by the day. Various factors such as weather, wear and tear, overuse and misuse can all contribute to the speed at which the infrastructure is degrading. Performing the necessary inspections does not always seem to catch some of the most serious problems. In many cases those cost-prohibitive and labor-intensive problems are quite conveniently avoided. In the worst case scenarios the necessary repairs are routinely postponed.In 2013, SoCalGas applied for and received money to do upgrades on equipment like safety valves—money that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says should have been used to prevent a leak like this. The regulatory decision filing shows that SoCalGas was granted $898,000 per year (in addition to the regular fund of about $3 million per year for repairs) to replace 5 percent of its safety valves at Aliso Canyon. According to EDF, these extra funds weren’t used as they should have been—to prevent a leak of this magnitude.
It’s commonly known throughout the industry that money is spent on new equipment and machinery only when absolutely necessary. Particularly when the price of hydrocarbon fuel is dropping due to weak demand, are expenditures reluctantly made on upgrades and maintenance. They are the first victims of the budget cuts when the energy markets are crashing like they have been for the past year. Consequently, those necessary preventative upgrades are passed over oftentimes even when they’re urgently needed.
Another major factor which has contributed to the multiple complications at Aliso Canyon is that the state of the art of both equipment and technology has not kept apace with the aggressive natural gas development. The rush to frack and drill at breakneck speed and in areas that present unique challenges has created predicaments in which the equipment has not been proportionately upgraded to meet the extraordinary demands. Situations now arise regularly wherein the troubleshooters are using inadequate technology and substandard equipment to address dire emergencies. Welcome to Aliso Canyon.
Southern California Gas Co. is the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, providing safe and reliable energy to 20.9 million consumers through nearly 5.8 million meters in more than 500 communities. The company’s service territory encompasses approximately 20,000 square miles throughout Central and Southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border. Southern California Gas Co. is a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy. (PRNewsFoto/Southern California Gas Company)
SoCalgas dropped the ball again and againThere’s no question that SoCalGas has been predictably negligent just like BP was in the GOM. Each day brings new stories which are verified whereby SoCalGas failed to heed one warning sign after another. Instead of confronting those deficiencies forthrightly, the corporate response had been to ignore and justify, dissemble and defend. Perhaps the prospect of such an epic failure was so great that they did not want to face the inevitable. The following account represents this dynamic quite well.
In view of several reports which have been issued about SoCalGas’s negligence in this matter, it is undeniable that the company failed more than a few times to respond in a responsible manner to previous emergencies. The history regarding this particular well is both long and well-documented. As follows:Other safety issues have been pointed out recently, too. Earlier this month, The LA Times reported that attorneys representing some of the 1,000 residents suing SoCalGas over the leak claim the company failed to replace an important safety valve that was removed in 1979—a valve that could have stopped the current leak in its tracks. The plaintiffs also allege that the company again identified leaks at the site five years ago, but never implemented plans to fix them.
The critical point here is, similar to the BP oil spill, that a simple piece of equipment could have prevented what Erin Brockovich has labelled: “This is the equivalent of the BP oil spill on land, in a populated community.” Only this time it is not oil leaking from an undersea well 5000 feet below the surface and 60 miles out at sea; rather, it is a massive gas leak in a high density residential area of Los Angeles County. LA is literally a stone’s throw from the actual out-of-control well.As public outrage grows over one of the worst environmental catastrophes since the BP oil spill, the southern California gas company responsible for the breach acknowledged over the weekend that it decided nearly 40 years ago against replacing an underground safety valve that could have cut off the gas leak when the storage tank first erupted in late October.
Executives of Southern California Gas apparently concluded it was too hard to find replacement parts for the valve and that the underground storage tank wasn’t close enough to homes to warrant the time and expense. Instead, they gambled that the cutoff valve would never be needed.
Lawyers representing some of the families in a class action suit charged that the Southern California Gas Company, which manages the storage tank, failed to replace a leaky and defective safety valve in 1979, and instead simply removed it. While a new safety valve may not have prevented the leak from occurring, attorney Brian Panish told The Los Angeles Times that it would have enabled a work crew to have stopped the continued release of the noxious gas.
“Had we had [the safety valve], this whole problem would have been prevented,” Panish said. “There would have been a small runoff of some gas and it would have been over. All these people wouldn’t have had to leave and they wouldn’t be sick. It’s critical to the whole case.”
A spokesperson for SoCalGas, Melissa Bailey, confirmed to the newspaper that the ruptured well did not have a “deep subsurface valve,” but she insisted it was not required by state law.
(Source: Did a Bad Decision 40 Years Ago Lead to the California Gas Leak Disaster?)
It is the government — both federal and state — which has provided the Oil & Gas Industry with so much leeway to conduct what is essentially an extremely risky and perilous business. They aren’t called “wildcatters” for nothing. Not only are the exploration and drilling side quite dangerous, the transport, refining and storage of oil and gas also have their attendant risks. Nevertheless, the federal government has always given these companies a lot of slack, often to the great detriment of the local communities.
*Data visualization shows the methane plume from the Aliso Canyon gas leak (in red)
The health impacts associated with this gas leak are many and serious. Whenever thousands of families are relocated to keep them out of harm’s way, the health implications are necessarily quite daunting. There have been at least 2500 households relocated from Porter Ranch with thousands more in process. The general area affected by the gas leak in Aliso Canyon has a population of 30,000 people. This particular region of the San Fernando Valley is densely populated and therefore presents some formidable logistical challenges all the way around.
The health impacts and medical implications start with the natural gas. Because this is a mammoth storage facility, which supplies processed natural gas to upwards of 20,000,000 people throughout the greater Los Angeles area, there are not the many other toxic chemicals to be concerned about that are normally found first-time extracted gas. However, methane gas in the concentrations being reported certainly can pose serious health risks. Benzene, a toxic VOC (volatile organic chemical) is also registering in significant amounts according to the readings taken thus far. Toluene and other alkanes are present in lesser amounts.
Most of the medical ailments thus far, which have required some form of medical intervention have has to do with an additive known as mercaptan. Mercaptan is quite deliberately added to natural gas so that gas leaks can be quickly identified and remedied. Also known as methanethiol, as well as methyl mercaptan, methanethiol “is an organosulfur compound with the chemical formula CH3SH”. It is the sulfur in mercaptan which confers a very strong odor on the natural gas by design. The mercaptan is introduced into the natural gas so that the gas can be recognized when leaking by the foul-smelling odor.
It was because of the smell of rotten eggs wafting through Porter Ranch residential area that 2500 families were relocated. When the concentration of mercaptan is sustained at a high level, there are telltale symptoms that will inevitably develop. The primary symptoms from inhalation include “fever, cough, dyspnea, tightness and burning in the chest, dizziness, headache, loss of sense of smell, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.” These are precisely the symptoms which have triggered the medical alerts in the affected residential areas. These have been serious enough that three schools have also been closed.