I live in Northridge. Some know my community as the home of CSUN, but these days, it is better known as the community just south of Porter Ranch, home of the famous methane link courtesy of SoCalGas. This is being called a global catastrophe — I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is affecting the lives of a lot of people who are in the direct path of the odor, and it is having ancillary effects on many many more (think of all the business impacts from people moving out of the area, even temporarily, and the impacts on those just out of the area). There are only two sure things in all of this: the lawyers are going to make lots of money, and it will be all SoCalGas ratepayers that will be paying for it.
Most people, when they hear about the leak, think the gas company should fix this immediately. But it really isn’t that easy. I recently found a good summary in the Times that explains why. In short, here’s the problem. The area far underneath Porter Ranch was once a major oil producing field. After the oil was pumped out in the 1960s, the underground area was used to store natural gas that was pumped to California from other areas (which is why it was odorized). The leak is in one of the old oil well casings. After a couple of months of investigation, the Gas Company has identified the specific well and the location of the leak. The broken well site is near the top of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. The storage facility is more than 8,000 feet deep and the gas is stored in the mountain’s sandstone pores. It has a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet. The leak is somewhere in the casing of well SS25, which is 8,700 ft deep, and they believe it is above the 1000′ level. As the leak is below ground, the only way to stop it is to fill up the well casing with concrete. In order to do that, they have to relieve the pressure that is currently going up the well from the storage facility. To do that, they have to drill a relief well that will intercept the broken well near the bottom. This means locating and intercepting a 7″ pipe over a mile below the ground. Now, you should see why this is such a problem to fix.
What is so aggravating in all of this is that this problem could have been prevented.Evidently, SoCalGas knew about the corroding pipes a year before the leak, and did nothing to repair them. The pipes met the state requirements and they were inspected regularly, so they had no legal obligation. An L.A. Weekly report last week said that the 1953 well was designed with a sub-surface safety valve 8,451 feet underground. However, the valve broke and was removed in 1979, and was never replaced.
Remember what I said about the only winners being the lawyers, and the losers being all the SoCalGas ratepayers.
The post below from Erin Brockovich has been going around Facebook, and has a great diagram of the problem:
Hopefully, now you understand why this is such a, to use an expression, clusterfuck. I know that those of us in the flats of Northridge, below Porter Ranch, do occasionally smell the methyl mercaptan, as it hugs the ground. I certainly smell it when I go up to the YMCA (which is in Porter Ranch) to work out. I know it is impacting our synagogue. I know it is impacting property values. Just a clusterfsck.
P.S.: This started out as the first item of the News Chum stew, but took on a life of its own.