The danger of California’s four-month methane release
With a population of over 22 million and one of the most industrial cities in the country, it’s no surprise that southern California is ranked number one in the United States when it comes to air pollution. As Los Angeles is known for its warm temperatures and minimal precipitation, it adds to the formation of the ozone layer. With both of these pollutions putting human health at risk, the Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up in order to warn the public about these potential hazards. Their most recent study concluded that ozone pollution causes respiratory endangerment, leads to premature heart problems and can affect reproductive and developmental systems.
With the recent event of the Porter Ranch gas leak, officials are taking more precautions with its emissions of harmful substances in the region. Porter Ranch lies just outside of Los Angeles. According to the L.A. Times, the four-month leak was plugged in February.
Porter Ranch, home to over 30,000 people, is a smaller city outside of Los Angeles. It also houses 115 defunct underground oil wells, owned by the Southern California Gas Company.
As Newsweek reported in January, “On Oct. 23, 2015, workers at a storage facility discovered that a 7-inch casing in one of the wells had ruptured, continuously pouring methane into the atmosphere.”
While it should be noted that methane is not a known killer, it can cause bloody noses, vomiting and even rashes. Many residents living close to the spill site were relocated to temporary housing, and have been away for more than four months.
Tori Zavala, a resident in its neighboring town Santa Clarita, said the gas leak even reached the atmosphere engulfing her area. Her community was simply given a warning about the harmful impacts the leak could cause, but no action was taken to evacuate homes.
Peter Hilkene, an environmental science and management major at the University of California Davis, explained the leading contributors to air pollution in southern California. He said the majority of air pollution comes from everyday use of vehicles such as cars, trucks, trains and boats. This is unlike most other regions, “where the majority of air pollution comes from coal-burning power plants,” he said.
Hillkene added that the most common gasses produced by these fuel sources are carbon dioxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. These gases contribute to hazardous emissions in the tropospheric ozone, which make up the brown haze, or smog, that can be found in Los Angeles. With very little public transportation and a growing population, things aren’t looking so green for southern California.
On Feb. 18, state officials said that the damaged well was permanently sealed. Researchers estimate that over 97,000 tons of methane, as well as 7,300 tons of ethane, were released into the atmosphere during the four month-long leak, “effectively doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin,” according to the Los Angeles Times. This is likely to keep California from meeting its end-of the-year greenhouse gas emission target, and it’s only February.
However, it’s not all bad news for the environment in California.
The University of California Berkeley is considered to be one of the top 10 greenest colleges in the country, according to Popular Mechanics. Kristen Flores, a conservation and resource studies major at UC Berkeley, gave her insight on what her campus does to minimize air pollution. Berkeley encourages its students to take public transportation instead of driving their own cars to campus. As an added incentive, bus passes are included in their students’ tuition. The UC also hosts several annual events on campus to raise awareness on environmental issues that are pertinent in today’s society. To earn their reputation as the greenest UC in the state, they ask their students to compete in a Cool Campus Challenge. The event simply has participants log their carbon-reduction activities, spreading the word to be eco-friendly.
Flores encourages everyone to participate in lessening our own carbon footprint through simple everyday actions. “Reducing meat in one’s diet is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint,” Flores said.
The Guardian concurs: “The [U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation] said emissions associated with livestock added up to… 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse releases,” it reported in Sept. 2013.
Through individual actions, anyone can help contribute to decrease harmful carbon emissions into our atmosphere, and with the events at Porter Ranch likely to cause a huge change in the atmosphere, every attempt counts.
Erica Noboa is a sophomore cinema and photography major who is glad to be free of the scary SoCal air. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.