Los Angeles: More than two months after a natural-gas leak began emitting large amounts of a greenhouse gas near a wealthy Los Angeles suburb, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, ordering California agencies to move as quickly as possible to resolve the issue after previous attempts to stem the flow of methane failed.
In his statement, the Governor said that he acted based on the requests of residents in the planned community of Porter Ranch in northern Los Angeles, and the "prolonged and continuing" nature of the gas blowout at the storage facility. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated since the leak began at a nearby natural gas storage field on October 23.
Aerial view of LA County methane leak
RAW VISION: aerial vision shot with an infrared camera on December 17th 2015, purports to show a massive natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility. (Video supplied by Environmental Defense Fund) video
At its peak in late November, the climate impact of the gas leak was equivalent to the daily emissions from 7 million cars, equivalent to six coal-fired power plants, according to Environmental Defense Fund.
The smell of sulphur has wafted through the suburb, and residents have complained of symptoms that include bloody noses, dizziness, headaches and vomiting.
Health officials have said that the symptoms are temporary, and that the gas poses no long-term health dangers. Still, more than 2000 people have temporarily moved away from the area, crowding local hotels. Several local schools have been closed, and students have been relocated.
"This is the biggest community and environmental disaster I've ever seen, bar none," said Mitchell Englander, who has represented Porter Ranch on the Los Angeles City Council since 2011. "Life there is not on hold – it's on the edge and it's on the brink of pandemonium. People are living with fear, uncertainty and doubt."
Southern California Gas, the company that operates that gasfield, has said the leak will probably not be plugged until late February at the earliest.
One of the lawyers representing local residents, Robin Greenwald, led a class-action lawsuit against BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010 and killed 11 workers while releasing at least 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
"I call this BP on land," Greenwald said of the Porter Ranch leak. "It's that bad."
In declaring the state of emergency, Governor Brown – who has been criticised by many residents for his slow reaction to the problem – reiterated all the state has been doing to help plug the leak and monitor air quality, as well as the state's efforts to make sure the gas company paid for disruptions and damage caused by the leak.
In the order, he said that "seven state agencies are mobilised to protect public health, oversee Southern California Gas Company's actions to stop the leak, track methane emissions, ensure worker safety, safeguard energy reliability and address any other problems stemming from the leak".
New York Times and Los Angeles Times