Officials: California's Enormous Methane Leak Permanently Sealed

Life can begin to return to normal in this Los Angeles suburb, but tremendous damage to the environment has already been done.

LOS ANGELES -- State officials announced Thursday that the broken natural gas storage well that has been leaking tens of thousands of metric tons of methane gas for months has been permanently sealed.

“After independently reviewing multiple tests on the leaking well -- including temperature tests, noise tests and cement-bond test -- we have confirmed that the Standard Sesnon 25 well at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field is no longer leaking and the well is sealed,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation (DOC), the agency that houses the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) that has overseen the well sealing effort.

An infrared video of the gas leak from Morgan & Morgan, one of the firms involved in representing Porter Ranch residents in lawsuits against SoCalGas, shot in December when gas was continuously billowing out of the broken well.

Southern California Gas Co., which operates the facility, is obligated to complete a safety review of the storage facility before further injection will be allowed.

“We recognize the disruption the gas leak has caused to the residents of Porter Ranch and surrounding communities,” Dennis V. Arriola, CEO of SoCalGas, said in a statement. “We are committed to earning back their trust and confidence over time through our actions, not our words.”

Arriola said now that the well is permanently sealed, crews will turn their focus to determining the cause of the leak.

Thousands of people in the affluent Porter Ranch neighborhood, the community adjacent to the broken well and that has felt the most impact from the leak, have been forced to live out of hotels and temporary residences since the pungent gas began seeping into their homes, causing many to suffer headaches, body pains, nosebleeds and painful coughing fits. Many locals remain worried about the damage to the resale value of homes in the area, as well as the possibility that such a leak could happen again.

The permanent seal of the well brings at least the first semblance of normalcy back to the Los Angeles suburb.

The thousands of residents who were temporarily relocated, and other residents of nearby communities affected by the leak, have been notified of the permanent sealing. SoCalGas says those who are still living in hotels have up to eight days to transition back home and those in short-term rentals have through the end of their lease to return.

In December, the gas company began drilling a relief well in an effort to stop the enormous volume of gas that had been spewing from a broken well since Oct. 23. The well was temporarily sealed last week for the first time and a permanent cement seal was established on Wednesday, which regulators were testing to ensure the seal’s efficacy.

This video, shot by the California Air Resources Board on Feb. 11 using an infrared camera, shows a time lapse of approximately seven minutes following the temporary seal of the broken well.

But the problems that plagued this well are common at gas storage facilities nationwide because of insufficient state regulations that don’t protect against aging infrastructure and industry negligence. In California, there are “no rules for well construction, for gas storage fields -- none,” said Briana Mordick, a geologist and senior scientist for Natural Resources Defense Council.

Aliso Canyon is no exception to that lack of oversight, conservationists warn.

“The 115 aging wells at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility are a ticking time bomb and the only way to protect residents from a future disaster is to shut down this dangerous facility completely and permanently,” Adam Scow, the California director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement reacting to Thursday’s announcement.

“The people of the northern San Fernando Valley have suffered long enough and shouldn’t be subjected again to a similar disaster,” added Porter Ranch resident Matt Pakucko, who’s been living out of a hotel since the leak caused him to suffer coughs, shoulder aches and flu-like symptoms. “We demand the California Legislature and Governor [Jerry] Brown preserve the moratorium on gas injections and begin the process of shutting down the dangerous Aliso Canyon Storage Facility permanently.”

Here's a look at just how much methane leaked out of the broken well: