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The Devil's Cigarette Lighter was a natural gas well fire at Gassi Touil in the Sahara Desert of Algeria. Ignited when a pipe ruptured on November 6, 1961, the Phillips Petroleum Company-owned well produced more than 6,000 cubic feet (170 m3) of natural gas per second, whose flame rose between 450 feet (140 m) and 800 feet (240 m).
The flame was seen from orbit by John Glenn during the flight of Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. The blowout and fire were estimated to have consumed enough gas to supply Paris for three months, burning 550,000,000 cubic feet (16,000,000 m3) per day.
After burning almost six months, the fire was extinguished by well fire expert Red Adair, who used explosives to deprive the flame of oxygen. The exploit made Adair a celebrity.
“This is a mini-Chernobyl,” Mike Antonovich, the LA county supervisor, told a public hearing at the weekend.
Seth Shonkoff, the director of the PSE Healthy Energy thinktank, said some of the monitoring equipment deployed by the company was not capable of detecting the foul-smelling chemicals, or mercaptans, that are the cause of headaches and nausea among Porter Ranch residents.
He said the equipment used by SoCalGas was capable of detecting the chemical at concentrations at 5 parts per billion – while the human nose is sensitive to mercaptan at much smaller concentrations of 0.1 parts per billion. “Everyone can smell it. The people who are sensitive to it are getting sick. But if they are monitoring with equipment that has a limit of 5 parts per billion it will show up as a non-detect,” Shonkoff said. “It is clear that data is not being collected in a manner that is necessary to determine the extent to which there may be public health concerns.”
On Saturday, regulators in California decided to hold off on a plan to capture and burn the natural gas that is leaking from a broken storage well just north of Los Angeles, citing the risk of a “catastrophic explosion,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
That decision came after the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) criticized the plan, which involved capturing gas at the leak site with a 3-foot-wide pipe and burning the gas off at a distance from the wellhead. Instead, the PUC said, SoCal Gas’ earlier attempts to plug the leak by pumping slurry into the wellhead weakened it to the point where a misstep in installing the 3-foot-wide pipe could cause a blowout to occur, which could cause the pressurized gas to vent directly into the atmosphere instead of diffusing through several areas in the ground, as it is doing now.
As the Los Angeles Times reported last week, SoCal Gas’ earlier attempts at plugging the leak by pumping slurry into the wellhead created a 25-foot-deep ditch around the site. "The wellhead sits exposed within the cavernous space, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt,” the Times wrote. That precarious wellhead is a last defense against the unfettered venting of a lot of pressurized gas.
This thing has to be affecting local and regional weather patterns by now right due to the greenhouse effect of this gas??
“We need to draw down all natural gas in the Aliso Canyon facility to zero – we need to deplete both the working gas and the cushion gas,” he told Brown. “It is simply wrong to limit withdrawals of gas from the facility that can be sold in the ordinary course of business, or stored in other SoCalGas facilities.
“Failure to withdraw natural gas from Aliso Canyon as quickly as the infrastructure will allow creates unnecessary threats to public health and the environment.”
California methane leak leads to criminal charges
Los Angeles prosecutors filed misdemeanor criminal charges Tuesday against a utility for failing to immediately report a natural gas leak that has been gushing nonstop for nearly 15 weeks.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the charges aren't a solution to the problem, but Southern California Gas Co. needs to be held responsible for the leak that has uprooted more than 4,400 families.
The charges came the same day the state attorney general joined a long line of others in suing the gas company for the blowout that has spewed more than 1.8 million tonnes of climate-changing methane since October.
The criminal complaint charges the company with three counts of failing to report the release of a hazardous material and one count of discharge of air contaminants.
The company said in a statement that it will vigorously defend itself in court. Arraignment is scheduled Feb. 17.
If convicted, the company could be fined up to $1,000 US per day for air pollution violations and up to $25,000 for each of the three days it didn't notify the state Office of Emergency Services of the leak.
It is also facing more than two dozen lawsuits — including potential class-actions from residents and businesses over the leak as well as from regional air regulators and city and county authorities.
"On Feb. 11, 2016, the relief well intercepted the base of the leaking well, and the company began pumping heavy fluids to temporarily control the flow of gas out of the leaking well,” a statement from SoCal Gas read. "DOGGR [California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources] officials and representatives from other state and local agencies were at the site to observe the operation. The leak and the flow of gas will be declared ended once DOGGR has confirmed that the well has been permanently sealed."
The company will now have to seal the well with cement to permanently shut it down, a process that could take a few more days. Once that occurs, the thousands of displaced residents who lived in the nearby Porter Ranch community will have eight days to return to their homes, at which point SoCal Gas will terminate the leases on temporary housing that the company has been paying for.
Southern California Gas Co pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges it waited three days to report a huge methane leak that has forced thousands of Los Angeles residents from their homes, officials for the company and prosecutors said.
During an arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Clarita, attorneys for SoCal Gas also entered a not guilty plea to the additional misdemeanor count of illegally discharging air contaminants, the officials said.
The criminal case against SoCal Gas was filed on Feb. 2, the same day California’s attorney general filed a lawsuit expanding a civil complaint previously brought against the utility by city and county prosecutors. SoCal Gas also faces a slew of private lawsuits filed on behalf of area residents.
The next court date in the criminal case is scheduled for April 19, Robison said.
The California State Patrol has arrested two people in connection with the massive methane leak in Southern California’s Aliso Canyon, but many residents who had to leave their homes near the leaking underground gas storage site think the wrong people are in custody. Instead of busting company executives and engineers who are responsible for the massive methane gas leak, the CSP arrested two protesters who draped banners on the headquarters of the California Public Utilities Commission. The protesters draped banners to highlight the lax regulatory environment that enabled the spill — similar to the political culture that enabled the water poisoning in Flint. But unbelievably, the activists are now the ones going to jail.
The protest at the California PUC headquarters was organized by Diablo Rising Tide, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Rising Tide North America.
The protest came as Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited the facility, and the gas leak highlights the vulnerability of similar storage facilites around the country, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“It is unconscionable that these regulators are putting people at risk while giving companies a pass. The last time Aliso Canyon was inspected by the PUC was the last time Jerry Brown was governor,“ said Kelsey Baker, one of the activists at the PUC headquarters.