New fear in Porter Ranch: Blowout of the well

porter-ranch-gas-well.jpgFile photo of Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.

Not only are thousands of Porter Ranch residents out of their homes and massive amounts of methane being released into the air — now there's a new fear over the Aliso Canyon gas leak. Attempts to stop the leak have raised the risk of the natural gas well suffering a blowout that would release even more gas and in a much more uncontrolled way. State officials are also concerned about the chance that the gas plume shooting out of the hole in the ground might ignite.

There's another community meeting tonight at the Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch to hear from government officials, and an all-day hearing planned tomorrow at Granada Hills High School at which the South Coast Air Quality Management District will present its case for an abatement order against Southern California Gas Company. Meanwhile, more residents of Porter Ranch are calling for permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility where the leak has been occurring since Oct. 23. Here is the Daily News page for Porter Ranch stories.

On the new risk of a blowout, here's a snippet from today's LA Times story:

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...

The crater [ around the wellhead] 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.

Southern California Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks.

"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."

By the way, I was quoted last week in a piece on Porter Ranch by Newsweek's California correspondent, Alexander Nazaryan. He notes that by mid-December, the Porter Ranch methane leak was already equal to emissions of six coal-burning plants or 7 million new cars on the road.

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