It was on October 23, 2015 when workers at a SoCalGas facility just outside of Porter Ranch first noticed the strong smell of methane gas. Within hours, the facility discovered that one of its 115 natural gas wells had developed an noxious leak spewing as much as 110,000 pounds of natural gas per hour into the atmosphere. This Porter Ranch gas leak took the headlines as one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the United States.
In the following weeks, more than ten thousand Porter Ranch residents fled their homes as a variety of engineering attempts to plug the leak all failed. These residents complained of headaches, nosebleeds, and a number of other health problems. Schools were shut down and businesses closed as California Gov. Brown declared the situation a state of emergency.
It took four months for SoCalGas representatives to finally close the Porter Ranch gas leak. February 22, 2016, state officials finally confirmed that the Porter Ranch gas leak was fixed and that homeowners might safely return to their homes. However, not all residents are satisfied with the situation. As one homeowner stated during the California state assembly committee announcing the resolution, “I am very terrified to go home.”
Her fear is not ill-placed. Less than 150 miles from the Porter Ranch gas leak sits the soon-to-be ghost town of Hinkley, CA. Hinkley was made famous by the 2000 film Erin Brokovich that chronicles the real-life story of residents triumphantly winning a $333-million settlement with Pacifica Gas & Electric Company for contaminating the local groundwater supplies with chromium.
Yet, 20 years after the actual court case and the city still enjoys no complete Hollywood ending. No holistic clean-up plan was ever put in place and as such the plume of contamination has begun migrating to more and more properties. This has led to hundreds of residents leaving Hinkley, while those that stay behind struggle to maintain healthy lifestyles.
Seeing the gross negligence on the part of PG&E and local government to correctly redress the environmental issue of Hinkley’s polluted water doesn’t lend much hope to those residents affected by the Porter Ranch gas leak disaster. Especially as the Porter Ranch gas leak isn’t the first methane gas leak, and it isn’t likely to be the last.
A study published last August found that natural gas facilities lose an average of 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas every year throughout the natural gas supply chain. That’s eight times as much as estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and in comparison the Porter Ranch gas leak lost just over 5 billion cubic feet of natural gas through its four-month period.
Anthony J. Marchese, professor at Colorado State University and lead author on the aforementioned study discovered that one of the biggest sources of natural gas leaks to be the industry’s general reliance on inadequate pneumatic gathering systems and a tendency not to update to more corrosion-resistant pipelines.
The source of the Porter Ranch gas leak was a metal pipe lying 8,750 feet below the surface. This wellhead was first drilled in 1953 and initially had a special safety valve that might have otherwise prevented the Porter Ranch gas leak. However, that valve was removed in 1979 because it itself was leaking and was never replaced.
As of now, there is very little regulation of the natural gas leak. The EPA has proposed new rules and standards for the natural gas industry and the equipment manufactured for it. However, these rules will only apply to new and modified equipment, and not the current equipment found at fault.
If you have been injured due to negligence and are in need of a personal injury lawyer in Torrance or Los Angeles, please contact the Booth & Koskoff office nearest you for a free personal injury case evaluation.
Photo by Polina Flegontovna via Unsplash.