After 16 weeks, more than 65 lawsuits, and the relocation of roughly 6,400 families, a leaking natural gas well in northwestern Los Angeles has finally been plugged.
The announcement from Southern California Gas Co. Thursday was the first time the utility has had the toxic gas under control since it was first reported on October 23rd. The well still needs to be permanently sealed with cement.
Just capping the well, moving families, and the price of the lost gas will cost the utility between $250 and $300 million. The real bottom line will likely be much higher once the lawsuits and state penalties are settled. The first wrongful death suit in this disaster was filed in early February by the family of now-deceased 79-year-old Zelda Rothman, who was battling lung cancer; the leak allegedly irrevocably worsened her condition, and she died January 25th.
Here’s a look at the emissions using an infrared camera:
Once the gas well ruptured, it sent more than 80,000 metric tons of deadly, odorless methane in the atmosphere. The Environmental Defense Fund said it will have an environmental impact over the next 20 years equal to seven coal-fired power plants, and it’s been called the worst catastrophe since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
By January, gas measurements found detectable elevated methane levels as far as 8 miles from the site. Here’s a graphic from Home Energy Efficiency Team, a nonprofit that helped track the extent of the leak, tracing the levels in red:
“Is it safe to be in that range? I don’t know,” Audrey Schulman, president of Home Energy Efficiency Team, told Inverse in January. “I’m being flooded with emails from people saying their kids are having problems breathing and taking kids to the ER. I don’t think we’ll know how bad this is for people for a while. It does seem, anecdotally at least, like an enormous number of bad stories.”
Porter Ranch, a neighborhood just a mile from ground zero, was immediately evacuated as residents complained of nosebleeds, rashes, headaches, and nausea. Even though they should be able to return to their homes soon, residents still have to worry about the lingering health effects of exposure on top of wrecked property values that might never bounce back.