SoCalGas Co spewing oily gas (and mystery frac chemicals?) poisoning 1.8 Million people across LA’s San Fernando’s valley. Is frac’ing or fluid injection to enhance oil recovery partially to blame for Porter Ranch disaster?

# Households relocated/in process out of California Gas Co’s Toxic Leak Zone:

January 28, 2016: 8,000

December 27: 5,531 +
(2,258 in temporary housing, 111 with family or friends receiving compensation from the company, 3,162 in process with more asking information on relocation)

December 10: 2,522
(1,143 in temporary housing, another 1,379 in process)

December 7: 2,000

December 2: 1400
(600 asking to relocate)

December 1: 800
(300 + 500 more in process)

November 30: 300

November 27: 170

November 23: 30

Much of the gas stored is frac’d gas. What chemicals or naturally occurring toxics and or radioactivity are poisoning communities with the leaking methane? Will the chemicals used to frac the gas leaking from this storage well ever be released to the public?

2015 Map of Socalgas Co injection wells at Porter Ranch

From Save Porter Ranch et al recent Class Action legal filing, an excellent read.

Gas blowout happened in old well regulated by old rules by Brian Melley and Ellen Knickmeyer, January 28, 2016, bigstory

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The utility that owns a natural gas well that has leaked uncontrollably in California for three months knew a devastating blowout was possible because of its age, design and the way it was being operated, according to state records and testimony.

And state regulators were aware of the situation at the largest gas storage field in the West, but they said they were limited in their ability to stop it. [Regulator or abusive enabler?]

“There are no rules that prevent it or no law that prevents you from doing what they were doing,” said Annaliese Anderle, a former inspector and supervisor at the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which regulates the field.

… Southern California Gas Co. has apologized for the ongoing leak and defended its safety practices, though public records and testimony from executives show repeated gas leaks and corrosion in wells it operates that average more than a half-century old.

The wells in the Aliso Canyon facility near Porter Ranch were being taxed near capacity in the months and days before the blowout — even as the utility sought permission to increase the rate at which gas is pumped into a vacant oil field a mile-and-a-half beneath the Santa Susana Mountains.

The blown out well, Sesnon Standard-25, was drilled in 1953 to pump crude oil and found a second career when the field was converted in the 1970s to store gas when prices and demand were low and provide it to heat homes during cold months or fire gas-fueled electric plants when usage soared.

In addition to its age, several factors put the well in jeopardy of a blowout, said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor who worked in the oil and gas industry 25 years and studied the well’s records.

The well was built with two outer steel casings that surround and protect an inner steel pipe, or tubing, just under 3 inches in diameter, designed to carry gas in and out of the storage reservoir. However, SoCalGas was pushing gas through the 7-inch casing surrounding that pipe, enabling it to move large volumes.

The practice was risky because the casing was under pressures as high as 2,600 pounds per square inch with no secondary protection for more than a mile of its length, Ingraffea said. The metal was exposed to corrosive elements that could get between it and the rocky formation outside.

A casing failure allowed the gas to escape from the well and a safety valve that might have been able to stop it was gone, Ingraffea said. The valve was removed in 1979 and was not required to be replaced.

Anderle, who is now consulting for a law firm suing the gas company, and Ingraffea said the leak would probably not have happened if the entire casing was protected by cement.

The gas company, which is paying to relocate nearly 8,000 households and facing dozens of lawsuits, refused to answer questions about the blown-out well until it is plugged, which could take another month, and its cause investigated.

A spokeswoman said it plans to shut down 18 similar wells in the field for aggressive inspection.

While some states now require casings to be fully lined with cement, no such regulations are in place in California. And there’s no rule preventing the company from pressurizing both the casing and tubing to deliver gas, said Don Drysdale of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The practice is common throughout the state, the division was aware of it and could not have shut down the well under current regulations, Drysdale said.

“I didn’t think I could be surprised anymore,” said Bill Powers, a San Diego-based natural-gas analyst and investor. He said the practice of pumping gas at high pressure through the casing removed all “firewalls of safety.”

In 2014, the utility’s operation director noted corrosion and decades of use causing an increasing number of casing leaks and other major mechanical failures among SoCalGas’ 229 storage wells. [Useful having sister of the Governor on Board of SoCalGas?]

Major repairs for leaks and failed valves climbed from three in 2008 to nine in 2013, the utility executive, Phillip Baker, told regulators.

“The possibility of a well-related incident still exists, given the age of the wells and their heavy utilization,” Baker warned California’s Public Utility Commission, in written testimony.

At the time, the utility was asking regulators for rate increases to pay for stepped-up repairs at Aliso Canyon and its three smaller fields. The roughly $30 million a year rate-hike request is still pending before the PUC.

Despite the utility’s own safety concerns, SoCalGas got state permission for upgrades nearing completion that will allow them to inject gas at higher pressures to increase the rate it can fill Aliso Canyon by half.

In October, the time of the blowout, the utility had pumped Aliso Canyon to 93 percent of capacity, the utility said. State records show 2014 was a near-record year for injections, filling 71 billion of Aliso Canyon’s 86 billion cubic feet capacity.

Former PUC President Loretta Lynch said state regulators should have kept a tighter rein on storage amounts. The utility commission allowed SoCalGas operators “to run the hell out of those pipes, and found in the process it had endangered thousands of people.” [Can insatiable greed & evil be regulated?]

The PUC is now studying the possibility of how it will ensure a reliable gas supply if Aliso Canyon is shut down.

The oil and gas division has proposed emergency regulations for underground gas storage that would require a risk management plan and corrosion assessment of uncemented casings. Drysdale said the plan should identify if pressurizing casings and tubing is hazardous, though the language doesn’t specify that.

Ingraffea said the proposed regulations fall far too short because they don’t address the operation of wells where only a single barrier, such as a pressurized casing, stands between a smooth operation and a blowout.

“If there are any wells in any field in California where you have gas pressure one metal thickness away from a blowout, that is unacceptable,” Ingraffea said. [Emphasis added]

Porter Ranch: Nosebleeds and Dead Hummingbirds by Judith Lewis Mernit, January 27, 2016, Capital and Main

Four years ago, Robin Kutchai lost her husband to cancer. “We got the diagnosis that his body was full of tumors two weeks before he died,” she said, perched at the bar of the Woodland Hills Hilton, where she’s temporarily holed up. They had been married 10 weeks after they’d met, 35 years ago. Telling the story, her large, neatly made-up eyes welled with tears.

After her husband’s death, Kutchai sold their Simi Valley house and bought a townhouse in Porter Ranch, where she found a sense of belonging to help her through her grief. “It was always such a wonderful area,” she said. “It was a place where I felt safe being alone.”
The AQMD insisted it lacked the authority to order the draining of the Aliso Canyon well.

That all changed dramatically this past autumn, when the air in the far northwestern San Fernando Valley community became saturated with the rotten-egg smell associated with natural gas — a consequence of a chemical added to the odorless gas to make it detectable. Kutchai, who claims she had never had a headache in her life, began feeling lightheaded and exhausted, racked with frequent migraines. She moved out December 2, first into the Woodland Hills Marriott, then, after some confusion, into the Hilton, joining the broad Porter Ranch diaspora scattered across Los Angeles.

“Every day I wake up and I just want to go home,” she said. “But home isn’t there right now. Home is poisoned.” She considers it a trauma more acute than what she went through with her husband.

“With my husband, at least there were direct answers. There was certainty. Here, there are no direct answers. You ask a question, you might get an answer close to the truth. But you might not. ”

It was on October 23 that officials with Southern California Gas Company admitted that methane gas had begun leaking uncontrollably from SS-25, one of 115 wells that reach 9,000-feet below to draw gas out of storage in an old Aliso Canyon oil field, just above where Porter Ranch sits in the Santa Susana Mountains. Since then, the tangle of conflicting information from experts, public agencies and politicians has left Kutchai and her neighbors wondering whether anyone in charge of the situation even knows what the word truth means.

Some officials with certain agencies reassure them that the air is just stinky, not unsafe to breathe, despite the prevalence of nosebleeds and crushing fatigue; SoCalGas issues timelines for sealing up the leaky well that never seem to stick; politicians float remedies that don’t succeed. One agency recommends one fix; another steps in and blocks it. Even this past Saturday, when the Hearing Board that governs the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) issued a ruling to at long last put some teeth into a solution, no one seemed sure exactly what had happened. The board members, convening in a ballroom at the Hilton, ordered the eventual sealing up of SS-25, as well as some independent health studies and air quality monitoring. They insisted their body lacked the authority to order the draining of Aliso Canyon and retire all its wells; the California Public Utilities Commission, concerned about local supplies, has ordered SoCalGas to retain 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the facility. But a shutdown is the only remedy that will satisfy residents, and they insist the air board could do it.

“Look,” complained a woman outside the hearing room, angrily waving a copy of the hearing board’s ruling, “it says right here on page six that they do have the authority,” and she read a passage out loud that contains the words “cease and desist from operating the Facility” next to the phrase, “or in the alternative comply with the following conditions.” 

(Late Tuesday, SCAQMD filed a lawsuit against SoCalGas over the gas leak.)

Chatsworth resident Gurbux Singh, who lives six miles to the southwest of the leaking well, joins Porter Ranch residents in wondering why there are any alternatives offered at all. Singh has long been in the habit of feeding the hummingbirds that visit his backyard, but he’s lately been finding the birds’ tiny iridescent bodies dead on the ground. “This is not something that has ever happened before,” he told Capital & Main. He’s also been to the doctor for shortness of breath and has been told that his blood is low in oxygen. “So I don’t understand how they can tell us that this air is safe to breathe. I don’t think they even know.”

This confusion, more than anything else, might explain why people like Kutchai feel more wrecked by the Porter Ranch situation than they do by the final loss of death. It’s also part of the reason “human-induced disasters,” like Porter Ranch — like the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where taps ran toxic with lead-poisoned water — can be harder to deal with than hurricanes or earthquakes, even though natural disasters almost always have higher death tolls.

“We trust in the sense of safety and normalcy instilled in us by respectable institutions,” says Krys Kaniasty, a psychology professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania who specializes in disaster response and recovery. “We take it for granted that because we live in this part of the world, in this society, in this particular time, the water you drink is not going to cause brain damage in your children, that the air you breathe is not filled with toxic chemicals.”

Uncertainty isn’t helping — stress is a known carcinogen, too.

We don’t think about it very much, “because if you did, it could drive you crazy,” Kaniasty says. “I mean, what is more horrid than the conviction that the next breath one takes will end your life instead of sustaining it?” But the people of Porter Ranch now have to think about the agencies they depend on for their biological survival in a way they never did before. And they don’t know when it’s going to end.

Which is another reason that human-induced disasters are so hard to cope with: They lack clearly defined narratives. “Natural disasters have a clear low point,” Kaniasty says, “which is the end of the destructive powers of natural forces. There’s the knowledge in the community that the worst is over. From that point, there is relief and recovery; everything goes up.”

By contrast, a crisis like the Porter Ranch gas leak “is a fuzzy, secretive, convoluted and extended drama.” Technological disasters evolve slowly, and the nature of their impact isn’t immediately perceptible. Kaniasty prefers the words catastrophe to describe them, a word that comes from the Greek, meaning “overturning,” or “ruin.” Catastrophes “violate all the rules of the plot,” Kaniasty says. “They are like avant-garde movies — there’s a beginning and a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” It was in part for that reason that one resident of East Swallow, Colorado, poisoned by a gas spill in 1994, told sociologist Kai Erikson that the community would have preferred a tornado or an earthquake. At least then, “we would know where we stand and we could go ahead and get on with life.” [Emphasis added]

SET UP TO LEGALLY ALLOW SOCAL OFF THE HOOK? Regulators approve health study on huge California gas leak byy Alex Dobuzinskis, additional reporting by Steve Gorman, January 23, 2016, Reuters

Regional air quality regulators in California voted on Saturday to require the utility responsible for a ruptured underground pipeline in the Los Angeles area to underwrite an independent study on the health effects of a huge methane leak from the site.

… The 4-1 vote on Saturday by a hearing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), a regional agency, stopped short of requiring the utility to extract more gas from the crippled field than it already had pledged to siphon out, under orders from state officials.

Gas extraction is designed to ease pressure on the ruptured wellhead and slow the leak.

Lawyers from Southern California Gas Co, the owner of the facility, told the AQMD hearing board any requirement from them could not conflict with the orders from the state Public Utilities Commission and Governor Jerry Brown. “We’re going to comply with the law, we are going to do what they’ve asked us to do,” Robert Wyman, a lawyer for SoCalGas, told the AQMD regulators at the meeting in Los Angeles.

After that, the board members required the utility to underwrite an independent study on the effects of the leak on local residents and imposed additional monitoring and reporting requirements on the utility. “We may decide in the future to take additional steps but that’s no reason not to take these steps now,” said David Holtzman, one member of the board who voted for the order.

… Many community members among the 300 attendees at the meeting at a Los Angeles hotel expressed displeasure at the limited scope of the AQMD’s action. Some held up small signs that read “Shut it ALL down.”

After Wyman, the SoCalGas attorney, addressed the AQMD hearing board, spectators sighed loudly and many of them left the meeting. [Emphasis added]

Air regulators approve abatement order to minimize Porter Ranch gas leak by Debbie L. Sklar, January 23, 2016, mynewsla

Southland air regulators Saturday approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing the three-month-old leak of natural gas from a Porter Ranch-area storage facility.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board voted 4-1 in favor of the order, which comes after four separate meetings in which angry residents voiced concerns to regulators and Southern California Gas Company officials about the feared health effects from the leak at SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon storage facility.

Today’s order compels SoCalGas to:

-Permanently shut down and seal the well and not inject gas into or withdraw gas from it in the future once the leak has stopped;

-Fund an independent health study to assess any potential health effects on residents;

-Fund continuous air monitoring to be conducted by SCAQMD and/or a contractor under the agency’s supervision;

-Develop and implement an enhanced leak detection and reporting program;

-Monitor the leaking well continuously with an infrared camera until 30 days after the leak has stopped;

-Provide SCAQMD with data on the amount of gas injected and withdrawn from the facility and information to calculate the total amount of methane leaked;

-Submit a plan to notify SCAQMD for notifying government agencies and the public of any reportable releases of air emissions, as defined in the plan;

Report all odor complaints to SoCalGas since Oct. 23 and on an ongoing basis to SCAQMD;

Not use any odor suppressants or neutralizers in an attempt to reduce odors from the leak, unless approved by SCAQMD.

The order extends through Jan. 31, 2017, unless SoCalGas completes all requirements sooner.

… Gas Co. officials had originally planned as part of the enforcement order to implement a system of capturing and incinerating some of the gas leaking That plan was ultimately scrapped over fears that such a burn-off might spark a catastrophic explosion.

Calling Saturday’s vote “better late than never,” Supervisor Michael Antonovich said government regulators have still “failed the residents of Porter Ranch and the state by neglecting to inspect, require or implement adequate safety measures on these antiquated wells.”

“The Gas Company must take immediate action to mitigate the catastrophic health impacts and disastrous environmental damage that their negligence and lack of planning has inflicted on the Porter Ranch community,” Antonovich said today.  [Emphasis added]

Porter Ranch ‘Climate Disaster’ Shows Need for National Fracking Ban: Sanders, California’s methane-spewing well ‘symptomatic of a larger, more systemic problem of the oil and gas industry,’  by Deirdre Fulton, January 22, 2016, Common Dreams

… “It’s a problem at gas storage facilities across the U.S.,” he said. “I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that while this is a big pollution event with huge impacts to the community, and [one that] certainly upends a lot of progress that California has been trying to make on climate change, it really is symptomatic of a larger, more systemic problem of the oil and gas industry.”

Brownstein explained: “A fair chunk of the emissions associated with the oil and gas industry in the U.S. come from these types of events: leaks on systems, equipment that fails, equipment that malfunctions.”

… But such fixes are merely band-aids in the face of a national emergency, said Linda Capato Jr., the fracking campaign coordinator for the environmental group 350.org. Porter Ranch and similar recent disasters, she continued, are “indicators of a failing regulatory system that can’t keep us safe from things that are inherently dangerous.”

For instance, consider that newly uncovered documents show that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was “commonly used in the Aliso Canyon gas storage wells—including a well less than a half-mile from the leak,” wrote Center for Biological Diversity attorney Maya Golden-Krasner in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee on Thursday.

Golden-Krasner continued:

The public is not notified of this practice. That’s because California’s new fracking notification law, Senate Bill 4, contains a little-noticed provision exempting well stimulation for gas storage. And officials with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources know disturbingly little about fracking in Aliso Canyon wells or other gas storage operations around the state.

That’s consistent with the Brown administration’s hands-off approach to regulating oil and gas companies’ underground injection activities. In 2011, Brown fired two oil regulators who raised safety concerns. Last year, state regulators even admitted they had let oil companies drill thousands of injection wells into legally protected underground water supplies.

[…] Despite the widespread use of this practice, most Californians have no idea that gas storage wells near their homes are being fracked. That’s absolutely unacceptable and must end immediately. [Emphasis added]

Exclusive: California gas leak spotlights shoddy regulation of aging storage wells by Nichola Groom, Editing by Terry Wade and Brian Thevenot, January 22, 2016, Reuters
… The leaking well’s owner, Southern California Gas Co, warned state utility regulators in 2014 of “major failures” without a rate hike to pay for comprehensive inspections of 229 storage wells.

Twenty-six of its wells were “high risk” and should be abandoned – even though they complied with state regulations, the utility wrote in a rate filing.

… Under state oil and gas regulations, Southern California Gas faces a maximum penalty of $25,000 for the leak near Los Angeles, which is unprecedented in scale. The well has spewed methane – a potent greenhouse gas – since October and displaced thousands of people in nearby Porter Ranch.

A bill introduced Tuesday by State Senator Fran Pavley calls for penalties of up to $25,000 per day for active leaks. It would also require the installation of automatic shutoff systems on all wells and continuous monitoring of wells within 10,000 feet of homes and schools.

METHANE CLOUD

… A month before the well failed, the nation’s leading oil and gas lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, published 60 pages of guidelines for monitoring and maintenance of storage wells. Other industry groups have supported having the API standards adopted as federal regulation.

The fracking boom has intensified pressure on the nation’s aging system of underground storage. About 20 percent of gas used in the U.S. during winter now comes from storage fields, according to the American Gas Association.

WARNING SIGNS

… PG&E, in a 2013 internal document, expressed little faith in state monitoring of gas storage wells, noting “an absence of industry standards.”

The company said it was working to fill this “gap” by helping API develop its guidelines. The industry group’s recommendations go into minute detail on matters including how storage facility data should be collected, how staff should be trained and how emergencies should be handled.

PG&E is working to incorporate those practices into its operations, spokesman Greg Snapper said.

SELF-REGULATION

California’s oil and gas regulator – the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources – acknowledged problems with oversight but pointed to an effort launched before the leak to update regulations.

The industry also has an incentive to police itself, said agency spokesman Don Drysdale.

“Regardless of the regulations, it’s in an operator’s interest not to have leaks, because that means they’re losing their product,” he said. [Do companies pay for the losses of product, or do taxpayers?]

 The lack of federal oversight has been debated sporadically for more than two decades.

Federal regulators declined to assume authority over gas storage facilities after three people were killed in a 1992 explosion at an underground cavern operated by Seminole Pipeline Co near Brenham, Texas.

That decision was criticized after a 2001 gas leak in underground salt caverns in Kansas caused explosions that killed two people.

The facility fell under federal jurisdiction, but federal and state regulators hit legal snags when they explored how to penalize the facility’s operator, El Paso Corp, which sent its gas across state lines.

Kansas was forbidden from regulating interstate commerce – and the federal agency had not written rules it could enforce.

A decade later, in 2011, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration asked industry groups whether they supported federal regulation of storage facilities in such cases. The industry supported oversight, but the agency has still not crafted regulations.

Last year, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, introduced a bill targeting “a dangerous lapse in the oversight” and proposing that states take over regulating all stored gas, even when it is slated for interstate transport.

A separate safety bill including the same provision passed a key Senate committee in December. It also directs the federal government to craft national safety standards for underground gas storage within two years. [Emphasis added]

5 Disturbing Things Porter Ranch Methane Leak and Flint Water Crisis Have in Common by Lorraine Chow, January 21, 2016, EcoWatch
They might seem different, but the ongoing disasters in Michigan and California are two sides of the same tragic coin: as Flint drinks toxic water, Porter Ranch breathes toxic air.

These two areas highlight the abysmal failure of utilities and lawmakers as thousands of local residents continue to suffer. What’s important to remember, however, is that these travesties aren’t just isolated incidents—they might be much closer to home than you think.

1. Both areas were in dire emergency long before official declarations

Flint: Local and state-level declarations of emergency were made by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2015 and January, respectively. However, the problem started way back in April 2014, when an unelected state official switched the city’s main water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint. Such a declaration allocates up to $5 million in federal funds to the city. It also authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to galvanize supplies and distribute water bottles, filters and other supplies.

Porter Ranch: Compared to poverty-stricken Flint, government action has been noticeably faster for the affluent Los Angeles neighborhood. Following months of pressure from activists and residents, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency on Jan. 6 over the gas leak—the biggest in U.S. history—that has spewed 86,000 metric tons of methane and counting into the atmosphere since Oct. 23, when the leak was first reported. The order means “all necessary and viable actions” will be taken to stop the leak and ensure that the Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas), which owns the leaking natural gas injection well, is held accountable for the damage. A federal state of emergency has yet to be declared.

2. Environmental contamination and noxious greenhouse gases spell trouble for the planet

Flint: Research has found that the water in the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron’s water, causing the city’s aging pipes to degrade and leach lead into the water. Water samples indicated an average lead concentration level of 2,000 ppb (parts per billion) with the the highest level recorded at 13,200 ppb, The Guardian reported, putting lead levels 200-1,300 times higher than the World Health Organization standards of 10ppb. When used for irrigation, lead-contaminated water can cause toxicity levels in garden and urban soil and cause poisoning if it enters the food chain through fruits and vegetables.

Porter Ranch: The leak, deemed the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill, has since spread across the Los Angeles San Fernando Valley, according to new research from Cambridge-based nonprofit, Home Energy Efficiency Team. The Los Angeles Times reported that “the leak is so large it will measurably set back not just the city’s but the entire state’s greenhouse gas emission targets, effectively erasing nearly a decade’s worth of statewide emission reductions.” Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change.

3. Many people, especially children, have suffered from health problems

Flint: Lead, which has no safe blood level, has been entering the city’s drinking water through corroded pipes and plumbing materials. Exposure to this toxic metal is considered most harmful to children and fetuses because they absorb lead more easily than adults. Lead can damage people’s kidneys, blood, and nervous system and progress to coma, convulsions or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 27,000 Flint children have been exposed to lead in the city’s water, according to The Detroit News. Additionally, 87 people have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. Ten of those who were sickened have died.

Porter Ranch: More than 2,500 families have fled their homes and more than 1,000 children have been relocated to other schools. Residents reported symptoms related to the exposure of natural gas such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and respiratory problems. Not only that, a Los Angeles city councilman called on SoCal Gas last week to extend residential relocation assistance to residents in Granada Hills, Chatsworth and Northridge who live near the Aliso Canyon gas leak above Porter Ranch. Even pets are suffering from ailments similar to their owners, such as nose bleeds, nausea and rashes, ABC 7 reported. As residents flee, businesses in the neighborhood are also struggling to stay open.

4. A disaster in the making. Lawmakers and utilities, now facing mounting lawsuits, ignored aging infrastructure

Flint: “The fact is,” as LA Progressive wrote, “that the pipes conducting water from the Flint River are and have long been highly corrosive and have been leaching lead into the city’s potable water system. Pipes to each home and business, including sink and shower faucets, have been directly affected through both negligence and lack of regular maintenance by the city authorities.” On Tuesday, amid calls for resignation and a growing number of lawsuits, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologized and admitted that he failed Flint residents. According to emails released to the public on Wednesday, Snyder was informed of Flint’s water quality issues in as early as February 2015 but his administration said the problems would eventually “fade in the rearview.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also acknowledged on Tuesday it did not respond fast enough to the water crisis.

Porter Ranch: Similarly, California’s aging pipeline infrastructure and poorly managed storage facilities have been put under the microscope. “The gas leak comes from a broken well that was last inspected in 1976,” as Earthworks observed. “The LA Weekly reports that the well’s safety valve was inexplicably removed in 1979.” SoCal Gas now faces a class-action lawsuit alleging that the gas company removed safety valves on Aliso Canyon gas storage wells that lead to the massive methane leak.

5. The disasters in Flint and Porter Ranch could easily happen to your city

Beyond Flint: Think your water is safe to drink [or have connected to your home or business]? A Vox report stated that “children in essentially every city in America are being exposed to hazardous levels of toxic lead, and very little is being done about it.” And if lead contamination isn’t bad enough, “a 2009 New York Times investigation found that more than 62 million Americans had been exposed to drinking water that did not meet some government health guidelines,” as PRI observed. “A 2011 analysis by Environmental Working Group found that more than 100 million people in 43 states were drinking water contaminated with trihalomethanes—a dangerous chemical that’s the byproduct of a chlorine reaction.”

Beyond Porter Ranch: While Porter Ranch has everyone’s attention, natural gas leaks are persistent and widespread across the country. A team from Environmental Defense Fund found an average of about one natural gas leak for every mile driven in New York City’s Staten Island, one leak for every 200 miles in Indianapolis and one leak for every three miles in Chicago. “Events of this size are rare, but major leakage across the oil and gas supply chain is not,” Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Oil & Gas program Tim O’Connor said in a statement. “There are plenty of mini-Aliso Canyons that add up to a big climate problem—not just in California, but across the country.” [Emphasis added]

Aging Infrastructure, Fracking Eyed in Massive Porter Ranch, California Methane Leak by Sharon Kelly, January 20, 2016, desmogblog.com

… “Events of this size are rare, but major leakage across the oil and gas supply chain is not,” Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Oil & Gas Program Tim O’Connor said in a statement last month. “There are plenty of mini-Aliso Canyons that add up to a big climate problem — not just in California, but across the country.”

… “It goes back into the history of oil and gas operations,” Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea recently told Living on Earth. “The well we’re talking about was drilled in 1953, 1954. So it’s over 60 years old, and it was never designed to last that long. It was designed to produce oil for some decades, then be plugged and taken out of service.”

Wells drilled decades or even a century ago dot the American landscape. Because many were first tapped before environmental laws were written, state and federal regulators often have no idea where they are located or to what extent they leak, but in 2011, ProPublica estimated that there may have been 12 million wells drilled nationwide over the past 150 years, the vast majority of them no longer in service. [Regulators are drilling “baseline” growndwater monitoring wells now to measure impacts from oil and gas and fracing?]

The Aliso Canyon well, where a 7-inch casing ruptured, is unusual not for its corrosion, but because until October it was still being used to transport hydrocarbons.

And old metal pipes rust. “These are steel casings,” Prof. Ingraffea said. “They initially have some sort of corrosion inhibitor applied to them, but eventually after much use and flow of gases and liquids inside the casing, and exposure of the outside of the casing to natural gases and fluids, corrosion occurs.”

Across the U.S., hundreds of former oil wells have been repurposed as part of oil and gas storage fields. But millions more are no longer on anyone’s books, and researchers say that those abandoned wells often continue to leak oil and gas because they were never properly plugged.

Some leak so much that they have become “super-emitters,” according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in Dec. 2014. The researchers sampled for methane at 19 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania — only one of which appeared in the state’s official inventory of orphaned and abandoned wells.

“What surprised me was that every well we measured had some methane coming out,” Princeton Prof. Michael A. Celia said when the research was announced.

… “Our community is starting to look like a ghost town,” David Balen, a councilman from Porter Ranch — a neighborhood that may look familiar to many Americans because it was where many of the street scenes in the movie “E.T.” were filmed — told Newsweek.

SoCalGas had known that its infrastructure was at risk for years, an investigation by Vice found.

Fracking Near Porter Ranch Methane Leak Site

… The SS-25 well itself was not fracked, state records show, but it is not uncommon for companies to frack gas storage sites to help compensate for damage to underground caverns from injecting gas underground. Another well near SS-25, SS-40, was in fact fracked, but that fracking took place at depths of over 9,000 feet, while the SS-25 leak is believed to be far closer to the surface.

“About two times a year on average, operators of gas storage facilities use hydraulic fracturing to enhance storage, mostly in one facility serving southern California (Aliso Canyon),” The California Council on Science and Technology noted in a January 2015 report.

The development roughly 15 years ago of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, combined with horizontal drilling, also spurred a shale gas rush nationwide — and researchers say that overall, the shale gas rush has leaked methane at unusually high rates.

Prof. Robert Howarth has been researching methane leaks from the shale gas rush for years, after co-authoring a landmark paper in 2011 that showed that natural gas production could be even worse for the climate than burning coal if enough methane leaked out.

Howarth now estimates that the shale gas rush has been remarkably leaky.

“The conclusion is that shale gas development during the 2009–2011 period, on a full life cycle basis including storage and delivery to consumers, may have on average emitted 12% of the methane produced,” Prof. Howarth concluded in a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Energy and Emission Control Technologies.

By contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimates indicate that less than 2 percent of gas leaks nationwide. But the EPA’s estimates have come under fire for a too-heavy reliance on industry-supplied estimates and because their numbers seem inconsistent with field measurements. [Emphasis added]

Explosion risk stalls plan to capture and burn gas from Porter Ranch leak by Tony Barboza, Garrett Therolf, Paige St. John contributed, January 16, 2016, LA Times

The possibility of a catastrophic explosion prompted state regulators Saturday to delay plans to capture and burn leaking natural gas that has sickened and displaced thousands of residents of Porter Ranch.

Mohsen Nazemi, deputy executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, whose hearing board was expected to approve the plan at a public meeting in Granada Hills, acknowledged the proposal was “very unusual” and that the idea is now on hold until local fire officials and state and federal regulators, have signed off on it.

… So officials, searching for a way to bring residents more immediate relief, came up with the plan to burn the gas. A 3-foot wide pipe would be used to capture the escaping high-pressure gas and burn off those emissions.

Earlier this week, however, the state Public Utilities Commission expressed concerns that the plan “needs further work and analysis.” It said the damaged well could be vulnerable to an explosion or a blowout which would allow even greater release of environmentally damaging gases.

A three-page letter from the PUC to the company included a warning that damage to the well system, which was subjected to two months of aggressive high-pressure pumping to try to plug the leak that began Oct. 23, might now permit air to mix with methane in a way that “could be catastrophic.”

The PUC will not allow gas incineration to begin until the company has resolved concerns about the design of the burn project, an agency official said Saturday.

If the capture and burn plan is eventually deemed safe, air quality officials said they expect to take 20 million cubic feet of natural gas out of the air per day – or roughly half of the leak.

Delay of the burn plan was announced Saturday during a public meeting at Granada Hills Charter High School, where hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents gathered to vent their frustration at company officials and AQMD regulators.

Ed Camarena, the AQMD’s hearing board chairman, said he regretted the panel could not reach a decision on the burn plan. The hearing will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the agency’s office in Diamond Bar.

With the burn plan on hold, AQMD officials turned their attention to longer term measures such as taking the stricken gas well permanently out of service, developing a new plan to notify people when an “air quality event” takes place and conducting a study to assess the health consequences of the leak.

The damaged well, known as SS25, is one of 115 on the massive reservoir. Gas company officials acknowledged there have been leaks at surrounding wells, but said they have been minor and corrected quickly.

SoCal Gas lawyer Robert Wyman told the hearing board that he would oppose any effort to close other wells, saying there’s no proof they are a “nuisance.” … “This abatement order offers quite a bit that protects the public,” Wyman said.

Those assurances were met with skepticism from the audience, nearly half of whom were waving signs that said, “Shut. It. All. Down.”

Many insisted that they have experienced persistent gas fumes for years and now worry whether they can believe the gas company’s claims that the fumes were the result of routine maintenance.

Meg Volk, a physical therapist and real estate agent in Granada Hills, said, “I have been noticing these odors since 2008.” 

Paul Tertian is among thousands who left Porter Ranch to escape the gas. He said he remembers turning to his wife when they first arrived in the area and saying, “Breathe the fresh air. Look at how beautiful it is.”

Now, he’s hoping the company and regulators will stop the leak as quickly as possible. “Give us fresh air. We want to go home.”

Another Porter Ranch resident, Matt Pakucko, said the debate about how to fix the problem misses the point.

“The air district doesn’t need to stall any longer because it has all the information it needs to make the right decision right now: shut down the Aliso facility once and for all.” [Emphasis added]

Regulators fear attempts to burn off leaking gas near Porter Ranch could lead to explosion by Paige St. John and Tony Barboza, January 16, 2016, LA Times

California utility regulators have asked Southern California Gas Co. to show that the ground around its leaking well is stable and that attempts to burn off escaping natural gas won’t lead to an explosion.

The state Public Utility Commission’s line of questioning offers new evidence the agency is concerned that the compromised well site in Aliso Canyon is vulnerable to either a blowout, which would allow even greater release of environmentally damaging gases, an explosion, or both.

The PUC has given the gas company until Tuesday to address concerns about plans to capture the escaping high-pressure gas with a three-foot wide pipe and burn off those emissions. The agency said the system “is NOT fully designed and needs further work and analysis.”

The three-page letter from the PUC includes a warning that damage to the well system, which was subjected to two months of aggressive high-pressure pumping to try to plug the leak, might now permit air to mix with methane in a way that “could be catastrophic.”

Utility officials tried Thursday night to convince local residents that the company is managing that risk.

“Everything with exception of capture area is straightforward,” senior vice president of operations Jimmie Cho said at a community advisory council meeting.

Cho described a large pipe that would catch the flow of gas coming from a crater surrounding the well and route that gas some distance away to enclosed, oven-like devices that would incinerate it. What methane doesn’t flow on its own into the pipe will filter through 8-inch thick screens to reduce the rotten-egg smell of mercaptan in the gas.

The modular equipment can be quickly deployed, Cho said, “like a Lego set.”

However, in a letter dated Thursday, the PUC and two other state agencies raised concern about the gas capture system and the integrity of the ground around the well.

The regulatory agencies asked the gas company to show that the scoured ground surrounding the well remains stable enough “to minimize additional strain on the surface casing,” a reference to the outer 11 3/4-inch pipe supporting the leaking well.

The letter questions whether the methane capture system is “electrically and intrinsically safe,” noting that electric motors in the blowers to be used as part of the system are not explosion-proof and could provide a catastrophic spark with methane and oxygen mixed in highly flammable proportions.

The agencies have asked for additional guarantees of protection against a blowout of the well, including a copy of a risk assessment done by the utility’s private contractor, Boots & Coots.

After gas was discovered leaking from small cracks in the ground Oct. 23, the utility began a series of increasingly aggressive attempts to plug the well with heavy mud. The Times reported on Friday that those efforts instead scoured a 25-foot-deep crater around the well, blew out a large vent from which gas could escape more freely, and threatened the stability of the wellhead itself.

The jeopardized well is now held in place with tension cables. Efforts to stem the leak have switched to drawing down pressure in the two-mile underground gas storage field beneath Aliso Canyon while operators drill a second well. They will use that relief well to try to plug the leak from below. The relief well is not expected to be in position until late February at earliest.

… The gas company has separately collected more than 1,000 air samples at 10 locations in Porter Ranch since late October. State standards say benzene at levels below 1 part per billion are safe for long-term exposure and below 8 ppb for short-term exposure. The highest level of benzene found at Porter Ranch was 5.55 ppb, detected Nov. 10. Another sample collected the same day was 3.68 ppb. A third sample on Nov. 18 tested at 2.77 ppb.

The gas company acknowledged it had understated the number of times it has detected elevated levels of benzene in Porter Ranch. A summary of the utility’s air monitoring data on its website had cited only two samples that were “slightly higher” than 2 parts per billion.

“It was an oversight,” said Kristine Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the gas company said Thursday.

Air district officials said they calculate Porter Ranch residents already have a cancer risk from all toxic air pollutants of between 400 and 500 cases over the life span of one million residents. That’s about half of what is found in polluted communities near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to a 2014 agency study. [When oil and gas companies poison people, why blame where and how people live, and or nature?]

Hundreds Of Porter Ranch Residents Vent Frustrations At State Officials by CBS Los Angeles

Tensions running high….not only is the leak more serious than originally thought, but it also has the potential to explode.

Efforts to plug Porter Ranch-area gas leak worsened blowout risk, regulators say by Paige St. John, January 15, 2016, LA Times
Southern California Gas Co.’s effort to plug its leaking natural gas well involves higher stakes than simply stopping the fumes that have sickened many residents of Porter Ranch.

The company also is trying to avoid a blowout, which state regulators said is now a significant concern after a seventh attempt to plug the well created more precarious conditions at the site.

If a blowout occurs, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels.

State officials said a blowout would increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. That natural gas also creates the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. The risk of fire already is so high that cellphones and watches are banned from the site [People living with industry’s methane, ethane, propane, etc venting from their water taps in their homes ought to park their cellphones and watches outside?]

California Department of Conservation spokesman Don Drysdale called the possibility of fire “a concern” even without a blowout. …

If the wellhead fails, the thing is just going to be full blast.
– Gene Nelson, physical sciences professor, Cuesta College.

The chief deputy director of the department, Jason Marshall, and a senior oil and gas field regulator assigned to daily watch at Aliso Canyon, Scott McGurk, told The Times the site and wellhead were made more unstable by the gas company’s attempts to stop the leak by pumping a slurry directly into the well.

The last of those efforts, which stretched over several days beginning Dec. 22, expanded a crater around the wellhead, state and gas company officials said.

The crater is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long and 30 feet wide, those officials said. The wellhead sits exposed within the cavernous space, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt, Marshall and McGurk said. The well pipe and its control valves are exposed and unsupported within that hole, atop a deep field of pressurized gas.

… “If the wellhead fails, the thing is just going to be full blast,” said Gene Nelson, a physical sciences professor at Cuesta College. “It will be a horrible, horrible problem. The leak rates would go way up.”

At a meeting with community representatives last week, the gas company’s senior vice president for operations, Jimmie Cho, said attempts to plug the well from above were halted “for safety concerns.”

“As much as what’s going on is not a good thing, we don’t want to take a risk of that wellhead being lost,” Cho said.

State officials agreed.

“If one pushes too hard … and breaks the well in its entirety, we, the public residents, the operator, have a much bigger problem,” Marshall said.

The gas company would not provide current photos of the site or allow media access. It did not provide a reason.

Aerial photographs obtained by The Times, taken by a pilot who slipped through no-fly zones imposed after the leak began, show the tension cables strung to hold the jeopardized well in place.

The photos, taken five days before the final plug attempt Dec. 22, show that the earth and the asphalt pad that directly surrounded the well are gone, scoured out by the backwash of mud repeatedly forced at high pressure into the leaky well in an attempt to plug it.

Gas well

Photo: Earthworks

Statements by gas company officials and regulators, and descriptions found in internal records describe the conditions around the well. A bridge was cantilevered into place when the crater cut off access to the exposed “Christmas tree” of valves and ports that allow operators to control the well, those officials and documents show.

That wellhead is the only control operators currently have on a well that features a 2 7/8-inch pipe surrounded by a 7-inch casing. Engineering schematics show that the pipe and casing pierce an underground reservoir of gas and that both were used to insert and remove gas from the storage cavern. For all but the top 990 feet, there was no larger pipe to contain a leak if either pipe ruptured.

The two-mile long depleted oil reserve that houses the gas is the largest natural gas storage field west of the Mississippi River. Each fall it is pumped with as much as 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas to run power plants and heat homes in Los Angeles during the winter.

The gas company reported Oct. 23 that gas was escaping through small cracks in the rocky ground around well SS25, which is among 112 former oil extraction wells that have been converted for the natural gas storage operation.

In November, efforts to force heavy mud into the well resulted in blasting open a small vent in the ground from which gas could escape more readily.

By early January, state air quality regulators estimate, the leak had released more than 77 million kilograms of methane, the environmental equivalent of putting 1.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the air.

Independent health impact studies are not yet complete. Mercaptan added to allow gas to be detected by smell has sickened residents more than a mile away, and Southern California Gas is paying to house more than 2,500 in temporary lodging and has installed air purifiers into the homes of a similar number who chose to stay.

Data captured by aerial surveys commissioned by the state Air Resources Board, which monitors pollution, show the amount of methane released increased over the first three weeks of November to 58,000 kilograms per hour from 44,000.

During that time, a Texas well control company was attempting to plug a suspected hole in the 7-inch well casing by pumping it with increasingly heavier slurries of mud. The mud was pushed against pressurized gas in the well, and the slurry began to find its own escape routes, gouging out a growing hole around the well, according to descriptions provided by Marshall, McGurk and by Cho.

During one of those attempts Nov. 13, a hole in the ground opened 20 feet north of the well, McGurk said last week. Gas that had seeped through diffuse rock fissures on the western side of the narrow ridge began streaming instead from the new vent, he said.

In one internal state report obtained by The Times, an agency official described that kill effort as a “blowout to surface.”

“A large column of gas, aerated mud, and rock formed a geyser around the wellhead,” the state observer wrote. “Mud brine also began to flow from around the wellhead fissures.”

McGurk said the vent allowed a “serious amount of gas” to escape, at which point the state began requiring a state regulatory official to be at the site every day.

Three more efforts to plug the well were made in November, with increasing amounts of backwash and scouring along the wellhead itself that left the well jutting out of a deep hole, without surface support, according to interviews, descriptions contained in agency records and company statements.

During that time, a pilot taking weekly readings for the state Air Resources Board noted a spike in the rate of gas being released to the air from that location. [Emphasis added]

***

The area is also being affected by “oily mist” containing assorted chemicals: benzene, toluene, ethylene, xylene, and other organics consistent with oil residues from the former oil drilling facility site. Air sampling has also noted radon and hydrogen sulfide.

Aliso Canyon Natural Gas (Methane) Leak

Resources compiled by: NLM Disaster Health, https://disasterinfo.nlm.nih.gov/
Cindy Love, Siobhan Champ-Blackwell, and Stacey Arnesen

National Network of Libraries of Medicine Pacific Southwest Region, http://nnlm.gov/psr
Alan Carr, Lori Tagawa, and Kelli Ham

Several local and state California agencies, as well as federal agencies, are responding to the natural gas leak at the Southern California Gas Company Aliso Canyon Facility that is affecting the Porter Ranch neighborhood in Los Angeles. The National Library of Medicine Disaster Information Management Research Center (NLM Disaster Health) provides information on public health aspects of chemical incidents for the benefit of health professionals and volunteers who may be responding to an incident and for people living in or concerned about an affected region.

The primary releases from the well are natural gas (methane) and odorants (tertiary butyl mercaptan and tetrahydrothiophene). The chemical information below is from National Library of Medicine resources: Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB); Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS); ChemIDPlus; and Tox Town. The Hazardous Substance Data Bank (HSDB) and the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) are both components of ToxNet Toxicology Data Network and they contain information on human exposure, industrial hygiene, emergency handling procedures; and data in support of human health risk assessment, including hazard identification and dose-response assessments.

The area is also being affected by “oily mist” containing assorted chemicals: benzene, toluene, ethylene, xylene, and other organics consistent with oil residues from the former oil drilling facility site. Air sampling has also noted radon and hydrogen sulfide. You can find information on these chemicals in ToxNet http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/.

Submitted by Siobhan Champ-Blackwell, MSLIS
Health Sciences Librarian
Specialized Information Services Division
Disaster Information Management Research Center
6707 Democracy Blvd. Suite 510
Bethesda, MD 20892-5467
301-496-2742, phone
301-480-3537, fax
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https://twitter.com/NLM_DIMRC

Leaking Methane Plume Spreading Across L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, The findings by independent researchers raise potential health concerns for people living outside the immediate vicinity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak by Phil McKenna, January 14, 2016, Inside Climate News

Independent researchers reported detecting elevated methane levels as far as 8 miles from the massive, ongoing leak of natural gas from a storage site in northwestern Los Angeles.

Finding elevated methane levels well beyond the Porter Ranch area raises potential health concerns for people living outside the immediate vicinity of the leak, the researchers said. Inhaling low concentrations of methane, the primary component of natural gas, is generally not considered a health concern [where are the comprehensive health studies proving that breathing methane is safe?], but natural gas often contains trace amounts of other, more harmful gases.

“Whatever else may be in the gas—benzene, toluene, xylene —that is what people may be breathing,” said Nathan Phillips, an earth and environment professor at Boston University. “Even though we’re not measuring things other than methane, there is a legitimate concern that there is that other nasty stuff in there.” [If officials are not told what chemicals companies frac’d to extract that stored gas, how can they test the air for them?]

On Wednesday Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander called on SoCal Gas to extend its residential relocation program to residents of neighborhoods adjacent to Porter Ranch, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. People in these communities were also reporting similar symptoms related to the leaking gas, according to the paper. SoCal Gas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said the gas company is providing temporary accommodation and air filtration for residents within a five-mile radius of the leak, extending beyond Porter Ranch.

In a mapping effort funded by the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge, Mass., nonprofit, Phillips and Robert Ackley of Gas Safety Inc. measured methane emissions for the past several days near the Aliso Canyon leak. Gas Safety Inc. provides natural gas leak detection services to industry, businesses and homeowners. [In 2006, Ernst asked the Alberta government to provide the same to all harmed Albertans in experimental frac zones, with natural gas, and sour gas venting into their homes and businesses via their water taps. Alberta Environment refused, saying natural gas contamination in homes and water is natural and perfectly safe.]

They used a laser-based system mounted to a car. It recorded methane concentrations and plotted the readings on Google Earth. On Tuesday and Wednesday the researchers drove further from the leak and recorded methane concentrations as much as two times higher than background levels, as far as 8 miles away from the site.

“It’s not just in Porter Ranch, it’s going all the way across the [San Fernando] Valley,” Ackley said of the methane plume. The valley is home to 1.8 million people including Northridge, Winnetka and Woodland Hills, neighborhoods across the valley where the researchers confirmed increased methane concentrations.

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment evaluated air samples collected by SoCal Gas in the Porter Ranch neighborhood between Nov. 1 and Jan. 9. The analysis included an assessment of benzene and other toxic chemicals and concluded that “available Porter Ranch neighborhood air sample data does not indicate that an acute toxicity health hazard exists in the Porter Ranch neighborhood as a result of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak.”

The agency said the symptoms reported by many Porter Ranch residents can be attributed to mercaptan, an odorant added to the otherwise odorless natural gas. Mercaptan smells like rotten eggs and helps in leak detection. “These odors can evoke physiological responses (e.g. nausea, headaches) without inducing more serious or longer-lasting health effects, such as eye, or respiratory system damage,” the office said.

Independent scientists, however, questioned those findings. The “acute” guideline is “the most cautious interpretation you could take,” Michael Jerrett, the chair of the UCLA Department of Environmental Health Sciences, told the Los Angeles Daily News. Acute guidelines focus on health effects from breathing significantly elevated levels of benzene over a short period but don’t assess the health effects of inhaling lower levels over a longer time. “There’s a potential here for health effects that could be experienced long term,” Jerrett told the paper.

Phillips made the same point.

“We are going in for a half hour at a time to check out the plume, but if I had that as a constant condition in my place of work or home, I would definitely be concerned about it,” Phillips said.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s analysis was based on measurements that were collected twice daily.

“One thing I was most struck by was the inadequacy of once or twice a day sampling stations,” said Robert Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University who joined Phillips and Ackley in taking methane readings over the weekend.

“There is an array of a dozen sampling stations that sample gases once or twice a day,” Jackson said. “The area needs more real-time continuous sampling.” There should also be additional sampling locations outside the Porter Ranch neighborhood, he said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has taken 24-hour readings on six days in Porter Ranch since Dec. 21.

“The benzene levels are actually on the low side of what we see typically in the LA area,” said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the air quality district. “They were all 0.1 parts per billion with the exception of one, which was 0.2 parts per billion. Typically we would see anywhere from 0.1 to 0.5 parts per billion. That’s good news. We’re not seeing elevated levels, at least in these continuous 24-hour samples.”

Phillips disputed the characterization of low levels of benzene and other toxic compounds.

“They are documented carcinogens,” Phillips said. “You really can’t say there is a safe level.” [Emphasis added]

Regulators probing whether fracking was connected to Aliso Canyon gas well leak by Gregory J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Daily News and Mike Reicher, January 13, 2016, Los Angeles Daily News

State regulators are investigating whether the controversial drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, contributed to the massive natural gas leak near Porter Ranch.

Fracking at Aliso Canyon had not been widely reported, though it is common at California’s underground gas storage facilities.

More than two months after Southern California Gas Co. detected a leak at its Aliso Canyon field, observers are searching for reasons the well may have failed. Some environmentalists are drawing attention to fracking, while experts caution that such a rupture is unlikely.

The leaking well’s maintenance records don’t indicate that it was fracked, according to a review of the file released by the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources. But at least one nearby well in Aliso Canyon was fracked, the records show.

A state-commissioned report found that Aliso Canyon was a major producer of hydraulically fractured gas, compared to California’s other natural gas storage facilities. Collectively, about a third of the gas stored in these state reservoirs is derived from fracking, according to the 2015 report by the California Council on Science and Technology.

“Obviously, fracking these old wells raises some real concerns about dangers to well integrity — fracking can cause casing to fail,” said Patrick Sullivan, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity.

But rupturing a well casing because of high-pressure fracking is unusual, according to Paul Bommer, senior lecturer in the Department of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. And it would only affect the well that was fracked, he said. [How untrue is that!? Hasn’t he read about frac hits to other wells, frac quakes, and fracs out of zone?]

Another concern would be one well’s fracking-produced rock fissures could cause another well casing to rupture. That might happen if the fracking and the leak were at the same depth, Bommer said, but it would be “very unlikely” to affect another well at a shallower depth.

State officials have indicated well SS-25 could be leaking around 500 feet below ground. The nearby well, SS 4-0, was fracked at deeper than 9,000 feet.

How deep the fracking occurred is key, said Gene Nelson, a physical sciences professor at Cuesta College in San Luis Obisbo. The process could be “very benign,” he said, if it was limited to the natural gas reservoir, and not deeper.

… “In fracking, you can’t control exactly where the fissures are going to go,” said Kyle Ferrar western program coordinator for the environmental group FracTracker Alliance. “It’s a possible cause, but it’s impossible to know if it happened.”

In their investigation plan, state officials say they will examine well records, including those pertaining to “well stimulation operations.”

“These are the kinds of questions that will be examined as a part of the division’s root cause analysis,” Department of Conservation Chief Deputy Jason Marshall said in an email.

A representative from the gas company did not respond to a request for comment on the fracking issue, but said, “We won’t speculate on the cause of the leak.” [Emphasis added]

Massive Natural Gas Disaster Hits Los Angeles, Excellent Interview with Dr Anthony Ingraffea (click to listen, or read transcript below)

Air Date: Week of January 8, 2016 …

Transcript

CURWOOD: From the University of Massachusetts Boston and PRI, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency to cope with a massive natural gas leak in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch. When the disaster began in October, as many as two million pounds of natural gas were spewing into the air every day from the Southern California Gas Aliso Canyon storage field, and thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate. Those still in the area cite health effects from the volatile organic chemicals and mercaptans—those rotten-egg smelling compounds added to gas to help leak detection – and say it’s making them sick.

PORTER RANCH RESIDENT 1: Nauseous, and I wake up sneezing and coughing and headaches.

PORTER RANCH RESIDENT 2: A lot of bloody noses too…kids getting sick, pets.

MCMANN: I have terrible headaches. My daughter experienced stomach pain. My son’s got nose bleeds. It’s just really bad.

CURWOOD: While this leak is not as visible as the blowout of BP’s Macondo Well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for health and the climate, it could be an even worse disaster. Aliso Canyon is the largest underground gas storage facility in the western US, and uses old oil fields as reservoirs for high pressure natural gas. Anthony Ingraffea is a professor of Engineering at Cornell University. Welcome to Living on Earth.

INGRAFFEA: Good to be with you today, Steve.

CURWOOD: First, give me the big picture here. What’s going on at this gas storage field there in Southern California, Aliso Canyon?

INGRAFFEA: There has been a major blowout. That’s the oil and gas terminology of a well that was used, along with 100 others at that storage facility both to inject natural gas into a storage region about 9000 feet underground, and to extract the gas from that storage region so that it can go to customers. The blowout is the result of a failure of one of the – I’m using oil and gas terminology here – one of the strings of casing, steel pipe, that line that well. And when that casing failed, gas under very high pressure, roughly 2,700 pounds per inch or more, was able to escape and find its way directly into the rock formation surrounding the well, and it found a path through the rock formation, through cracks, faults, joints and is escaping not from the surface at the well head, but from the surface away from the well head, literally out in a field.

CURWOOD: How much gas is being released? How much has been released so far? Do the folks that operate this even know?

INGRAFFEA: Well, there have been various measurements made since late October when this leak was first discovered. It’s releasing somewhere around 1,200 tons of natural gas per day, and that varies according to pressure variation and atmospheric conditions. There has been something like 120,000 tons of natural gas, which is mostly methane, released into the atmosphere. That’s about one-quarter of the state of California’s monthly methane emissions from all sources, or, if you want to put it on a national basis, that’s about 15 percent of the hourly methane emissions in the entire oil and gas industry in the United States.

CURWOOD: How fair is it to say this is a methane disaster?

INGRAFFEA: It is a methane disaster. It is, in my opinion, a methane disaster that when the final count of dollars and lives impacted is assessed will be similar to what we had in the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a few summers back. Luckily, at this point, no one has been killed. So in terms of deaths, it’s insignificant compared to Macondo. But in terms of environmental impact on the daily lives of thousands of people and cost, we’re talking about many, many, many billions, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars when all is said and done here.

CURWOOD: Now, what exactly has SoCal Gas done to try to plug this leak, and how much more gas is likely to come out before they get the situation fixed?

INGRAFFEA: What SoCalGas did when they realized the magnitude of the problem was to call in experts, a company called Boots & Coots. They are a well-known safety and well rescue company that works all around the world to try to save wells that have blowouts and the first thing they tried to do was – again, using oil and gas terminology – kill the well, by pouring a high density liquid into the well in hopes that the pressure exerted by that column of high density liquid would overcome the pressure of the gas which is coming up the well and out into the geological formations. The problem is that the leak in the casing is occurring relatively shallow – it’s only about 500 feet below the surface of a nearly 9,000 foot deep well. But the pressure at the bottom of a column of liquid 500 feet high was insufficient to overcome the roughly 2,700 pounds per square inch of gas pressure. And so, that column of liquid could not force the gas down below the breach in the casing to stop the flow into the atmosphere, so that failed. So they resorted to the next and current method which was used at the Macondo well, to drill a so-called relief well so that it intersects this leaking well not where it’s leaking, but at its base 8,700 feet underground, or through the casing, the steel pipe there, and inject cement at the place where the gas is coming from. There are two of these relief wells being drilled, hopefully one of them works. There are many things that could go wrong. So there is no certainty here that a fix is guaranteed. So Southern California, SoCalGas, the people in Southern California, and the atmosphere of the planet is going to experience for another month or two of a large methane release.

CURWOOD: How many methane storage facilities are there like this around the country?

INGRAFFEA: Hundreds, some of them larger, many of them smaller. Each of them has tens to hundreds of wells of the type that we’re talking about here. Most of the wells are repurposed, they were originally oil or gas wells. They were production wells, so they were repurposed at some point in their lives to be access wells to a storage reservoir. That is fundamentally the issue that we should be talking about here.

CURWOOD: And each of these facilities is just a crack in the so-called casing, this pipe that reaches down into the well, they’re just one crack away from a disaster like this?

INGRAFFEA: Yes, it goes back into the history of oil and gas operations. The well we’re talking about was drilled in 1953, 1954. So it’s over 60 years old, and it was never designed to last that long. It was designed to produce oil for some decades, then be plugged and taken out of service. But in the 1970s it was repurposed, and since the 1970s it’s been operating in its current mode, and as you can well imagine, as Paul Simon used to say, “Everything put together sooner or later falls apart.” Especially if it’s underground. These are steel casings. They initially have some sort of corrosion inhibitor applied to them, but eventually after much use and flow of gases and liquids inside the casing, and exposure of the outside of the casing to natural gases and fluids, corrosion occurs. And I have no doubt given my professional experience that the casing in this case that ruptured experienced some corrosion. So, what we’re seeing here is what the industry knows, an increasing rate of such problems. So you can call this the proverbial tip of the iceberg, since there are tens of thousands of such wells.

CURWOOD: It sounds counterintuitive if you think, hey, 400 or 500 feet down, not so hard to get to. But in this case…

INGRAFFEA: You can’t put people down a well. The casing that’s ruptured is seven inches in diameter. So you can conceivably, regularly – they should be regularly doing this – drop miniaturized cameras down that well-bore and inspect it. It’s expensive. They have to take that well out of operation. And this particular well, it would actually be impossible because there’s no longer a safety valve at the bottom of the well. So they can shut off gas pressure at the surface when the well was in regular operation, but they can no longer shut off the gas pressure 8,700 feet underground. When the final chapter of the accident is written, just like every other major accident involving a societal structure – an aircraft crash, a bridge failure, there was not any one thing. It’s many things concatenated. I mean you look at all those concatenated things, you say what’s the probability of that happening…pretty low, but then you multiply the number of wells by the probability of any one well failure and pretty soon you have what you have here – an occurrence.

CURWOOD: Professor, if you were in charge, what would you do to address this danger?

INGRAFFEA: I would do the same thing that the federal government did with the aging aircraft problem 25 years ago. Every well of this type in operation in the United States must now experience federal regulation, uniform federal regulation across the country that mandates that each such well is inspected on an increasing frequency, proportional to its age, using the best available technology, down-hole cameras or whatever that means, so that every well has a safety record, and that every time an inspection is performed, a judgment is made, as to whether that well can continue in operation as is, whether it needs repair, and if it needs repair the repair is mandated over a very short period of time before the well can be put back into operation, or if it’s determined that the well is no longer fit for service, it’s taken out of service. So again, as technology changes and as we understand more about the operations of our planet, i.e. climate change, regulations should change accordingly. That’s the rational thing to do.

CURWOOD: There’s been a lot of talk about expanding natural gas production around the world to help address the threat of climate disruption, people saying the equivalence here compared say to coal means that natural gas is a better bet, a better bridge. Your assessment?

INGRAFFEA: That’s an absolutely incorrect, unscientific assessment. All of the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature indicates that if the leakage of methane, natural gas, into the atmosphere worldwide is greater than about three percent of the total production of natural gas in the world, it’s the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Because when you burn methane, you get carbon dioxide, which we know is primary greenhouse gas, but when you don’t burn it and leak it – as we’re seeing it in Aliso Canyon – it’s even worse, because methane is a much potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So all of thee scientific literature published in the last few years – and this question has only been addressed in the last few years – points to that roughly three percent cutoff. And again, all the peer-reviewed literature that’s been published in the last few years shows that in the US alone, the leak rate is greater than three percent. So, in the US we should not be converting coal-fired electricity generating plants to natural gas. We’re going in the wrong direction. We’re making climate change worse, not better, and of course, when we look across the world, we like to pride ourselves as being the best at everything, and of course, our leak rate is “low”, you can only surmise what the leak rate of methane would be in other countries where there is not such tight regulatory control. So, no, I do not in any way, means or form, ascribe to, believe, buy into the notion of natural gas being a bridge fuel or a down-ramp to a clean renewable energy future. It’s scientific nonsense. People in the industry know it. People in the scientific community know it. Unfortunately, our political leaders have to make decisions based on something other than science.

CURWOOD: Anthony Ingraffea is the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering at Cornell University. Tony, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.

INGRAFFEA: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: SoCalGas says it is working “as quickly as safety will allow to stop the leak”. [Emphasis added]

Oily mist surfaces at Porter Ranch gas leak as well pressure drops by Gregory J. Wilcox, January 5, 2016, Los Angeles Daily News

Workers have begun casting a netlike device to contain an oily mist that has been surfacing from a massive methane leak at a well site in Southern California Gas Co.’s storage facility above Porter Ranch. The seepage is the result of changing dynamics deep underground where the natural gas is stored under pressure in the pores of sandstone rock in the company’s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility in the Santa Susana Mountains.

… Called “demister pads,” they contain a mesh screen and are placed where seepage is occurring.

“They trap droplets that mix with the gas as it comes up,” SoCalGas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said of the new pad system. “They are laid over where the gas is coming up, and as the gas flows through, it traps the oil and water.”

The pads are encased in a 60-foot-long, 8-foot-wide steel frame that is about a foot tall. It holds 40 pads, officials said.

Three other frames are under construction, including one that is 100 feet long, and will be implemented when the weather permits.

“They (the demister pads) are necessary because as the reservoir pressure declines, fluids (oil and water) encroach into the reservoir and are then carried to surface with the gas. The amount of misting is partially dependent on wind conditions,” Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state’s Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said in a email.

SoCalGas acknowledged late last month that some oily residue droplets have been encroaching on the neighborhood that is adjacent to the storage facility in Porter Ranch.

“The dark brown residue may be related to non-toxic brine solution released as part of the SoCalGas’ leak control process. The brine solution may have contained trace amounts of oil naturally occurring within the leaking well’s reservoir, and may have been carried by the wind to properties immediately adjacent to the facility, particularly when very strong winds blow in that direction,” Lloyd said in an email.

But Matt Pakuko, founder and president of the activist group Save Porter Ranch, said oily drops have been falling since shortly after the leak was discovered.

He hopes this effort works.

“It was an abandoned oil well and there is a certain amount of that stuff still in there. If they (the demisters) work, great,” he said.

GOVERNOR VISITS

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday finally visited the storage field where he was briefed on the repair process and then met with three members of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council to hear their concerns. … Many residents have wondered why it took the governor more than two months to visit the community …. [Emphasis added]
Utility is installing screens to contain oily mist at leaking well near Porter Ranch by Louis Sahagun, January 4, 2016, LA Times

Southern California Gas Co. crews are erecting mesh screens around the utility’s leaking natural gas injection well to prevent an oily mist from drifting off the site and across the nearby community of Porter Ranch, company officials confirmed on Monday.

FOR THE RECORD:

An earlier version of this article said the mesh screens are 100 feet tall. The screens actually lie flat over the well site. The article also misidentified spokeswoman Trisha Muse as Tracy Muse.

————

The mist, she said, “may have been carried by the wind to properties immediately adjacent to the facility, particularly when very strong winds blow in that direction.”

The gas company used a massive crane Sunday to install a 60-foot section of the mesh, said Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.

The problem first arose Nov. 13, when SoCal Gas used an automated call system to advise local residents to stay indoors because fluids pumped into the well had returned to the surface and created a mist. The company issued an all-clear the following day. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

EPA opens probe into Southern California Gas Co. leak above Porter Ranch; San Fernando Valley assemblyman will hold state hearing

Regulatory Failure, Corporate Failure, Inspection Failure, Integrity Failure, Casing Failure, Safety Failure, Greed Trumps All: Regulator & SoCalGas Co. knew casing was corroding, failing with major leakage problems at Porter Ranch gas storage facility more than a year before catastrophic leak

2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 staying with family or friends, 3,162 in placement process. Growing environmental disaster in LA: Monster industry-created methane leak revealed in new aerial infrared video. What happens if SoCalGas can’t fix their leak? Was the leaking gas frac’d? Is it radioactive?

Industry’s Massive Natural Gas Leak Into Porter Ranch Community to Be Declared Local State of Emergency, More than 1,000 households moved out, another 1,379 leaving

L.A. city attorney sues SoCal Gas over gas leak making Porter Ranch homes “unlivable.” Why isn’t Alberta’s Attorney General suing Encana & AER for illegally frac’ing a community’s drinking water supply, then engaging in Charter violations, fraud to cover it up?

First 30 families relocated out of California Gas Co’s catastrophic gas storage leak in community of Porter Ranch, then 170, then 300, then 800, now 600 more asking to leave

Public and Corporate Health Fraud? Where’s the regulator? Huge natural gas leak in California has impact of burning 300 million gallons of gasoline, is sickening residents, could take months to fix, class action lawsuit filed ]

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