Thousands of Californians Are Fleeing an Enormous Methane Leak. Here Are 8 Things You Need to Know. | Mother JonesCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over a large Southern California gas leak in Los Angeles County, which has led to months of protests and the displacement of thousands of families.Governor Brown made the declaration on Wednesday, which will make more resources available for dealing with the leak at Porter Ranch, which is within LA County.
In the press release announcing the state of emergency, Brown’s office said the order has come due to the “prolonged and continuing duration of the Aliso Canyon gas leak.”
For more than two months, California has experienced a slow-moving environmental disaster: Methane leaking from a faulty natural gas well near the Los Angeles neighborhood Porter Ranch has displaced thousands of families and is releasing the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 7 million cars each day. Here's what's going on:5 Facts to Know About the California Methane Leak
When did all this start? On October 23, methane began leaking from a faulty well in Aliso Canyon, the site of a natural gas storage facility owned by Southern California Gas company. Since then, the well has been releasing about 70,000 pounds of methane every hour—equivalent to about a quarter of the state's methane emissions, according to CBS News. (Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas; pound for pound, it traps 86 times more solar radiation than CO2 over a 20-year period.) SoCalGas estimates the leak won't be fixed until February or March.
Now, officials with the company say it could be months before the methane leak is stopped.
But what exactly caused the methane leak in the first place, and how will it affect those in the surrounding areas? Here are five things to know about the Southern California methane leak.
1.Methane is the main component of natural gas
Methane is a simple hydrocarbon made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, and is produced when microorganisms called methanogens combine carbon dioxide and oxygen. It is the main constituent in the natural gas that is used for heating and cooking in some homes.
By itself, methane is colorless and odorless. When it is processed for use in homes, an odorant is added, so that people will be able to smell it if there is a gas leak.
Scientists say that vast stores of methane are buried beneath the seafloor, locked into a cagelike crystal of water molecules, making it stable. Other huge sources of methane are the organic matter frozen into the permafrost in the Arctic.
The methane that's leaking probably isn't part of California's natural reserves. Most of the methane that is used in Southern California homes actually comes from somewhere else (typically West Texas or Southern Colorado). It is transported to California via a massive network of interstate pipelines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.