Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Infrared footage shows what an L.A. community has been living for nearly two months.
What does a pipe spewing 50,000 kilograms of methane per hour look like? You’d never know, as the highly flammable gas is invisible to the naked eye. But in the northern San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, where a ruptured pipe has been pluming natural gas for nearly two months, residents finally have their chance to see.
The video was captured by the environmental nonprofit Earthworks, whose staffers took infrared cameras to the hills outside the natural gas storage field where the broken line sits. Owned by the Southern California Gas Company, the field is about a mile away from homes in the 30,000-person community of Porter Ranch. Since the break was first reported on October 23, residents have endured nausea, headaches and nosebleeds from chemicals added to the gas to give it a smell.
The utility has unable to repair the pipe, and has said it will be months before it’s fixed. State air quality regulators recently estimated that the rupture is releasing about 50,000 kilograms of methane per hour.
Hundreds of Porter Ranch families have been relocated to hotels by the gas company, and about 2,000 more are seeking such accommodations. Public health officials say that methane itself is not too risky in the short term, given that it’s rising into the atmosphere. But the longer the leak lasts, the greater the risk to humans becomes, as there are trace amounts of more harmful gases mixed in with the methane.
The city attorney of Los Angeles announced Monday that he was suing the gas company over how they’ve handled the leak. Porter Ranch residents have also served the utility with a class action lawsuit, which the video was made to support, according to KPCC.