AN INVISIBLE environmental disaster which has been compared to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill has forced thousands of people from their homes after suffering nosebleeds, sickness and headaches.
Residents, who have complained of foul egg-like smells, have been left with nosebleeds, headaches and nausea, after millions of kilograms of invisible methane was released into the air by a gas company that has been unable to stem the leak for weeks.
Methane has no smell, but because of its highly flammable nature, has the poisonous chemical mercaptan (known in the industry as stench due to its sulphurous smell) added, so leaks can be detected quickly.
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who was played by Julia Roberts in the Hollywood biopic of the same name, has branded it one of the worst environmental disasters since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The problem stared in October when a natural gas well sprung a major leak and the company behind it has been unable to fill it more than two months on.
The highly flammable methane pumped out of the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) natural gas storage plant in Aliso Canyon.
Methane – given off by the natural decomposition of most things including dead plants and animals and household waste – is a major greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming.
The leak started on October 23 in the Los Angeles town.
Residents claim the gas, which has drifted into surrounding neighborhoods, is making them suffer from nausea, nosebleeds, and headaches and thousands of people have moved out temporarily.
Investigators have been unable to establish why or how it started and workers are reportedly not close to tackling it yet.
The exact level of the leak is unkown but tests from an aircraft that flew through the invisible gas plume on December 23 two months after the incident estimated 66million kgs had been released.
The California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board told Tech Insider: “That translates into a global warming potential of about 1.6mmetric tonnes of CO2 [carbon dioxide].”