This is the ongoing gas leak in California that's an epic ecological disaster

Aliso Canyon gas leak
CC BY 2.0 Environmental Defense Fund/YouTube

Impact of greenhouse gases released since October measured over a 20-year time frame is equivalent to emissions from 7 million cars.

Have you heard about what’s going on in Aliso Canyon in the hills above Burbank, California? It's old news and current at the same time, and it's a mess. In October, a massive underground natural gas storage facility ruptured and methane has been pouring into the environment ever since. State officials and experts say that more than 150 million pounds of methane have leaked into the air so far, and there’s no relief in sight.

The gas is leaking at a rate of up to 110,000 pounds per hour, officials confirm.

The Washington Post reports that the Aliso Canyon leak instantly became the biggest single source of methane emissions in all of California when it began two months ago. “The impact of greenhouse gases released since then,” notes the paper, “measured over a 20-year time frame, is the equivalent of emissions from six coal-fired power plants or 7 million automobiles.”

Part of the reason that containment has remained elusive is the sheer size of the storage field, which is enormous. In the United States, old oil fields are commonly used on the premise that geological sites that were good at keeping in oil for millions of years would also be good at keeping in gas, notes Wired. Across the country there are hundreds of depleted oil fields now doing service as storage sites for natural gas. The site at Aliso Canyon, owned by Southern California Gas Co., is one of the largest in the country, with a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet.

Nobody knows the exact cause of the leak, but official suspect that a subterranean well casing failed, allowing the pressurized gas to push through cracks in the earth and escape near the community of Porter Ranch. Some 1,700 homes and two schools in the area have been evacuated because of the leak.

The gas company and state officials are doing everything they can to stem the flow, but California officials say it could be months before the billowing gas is contained.

New infrared video obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) shows the eerie leak, which would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye.

“It is one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported,” said Tim O’Connor, California climate director for the EDF. “It is coming out with force, in incredible volumes. And it is absolutely uncontained.”

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