Highly flammable natural gas continues to spew from a well located near the LA neighborhood of Porter Ranch. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, unsuccessful efforts to plug the leak have created conditions that might lead to an even bigger problem—a blowout that could release far more gas up through the well and create a "massive" fire risk. "If the wellhead fails, the thing is just going to be full blast," a college science professor tells the Times, describing it as a "horrible, horrible" outcome. "The leak rates will go way up." Southern California Gas Co. has tried seven times to stem the leak since October, first by pumping in heavy mud to plug a suspected hole in a casing that surrounds a pipe. Instead, the mud has been pushed back up by the pressurized gas, resulting in a huge crater around the wellhead that makes it more vulnerable.
Now, per the Times, SoCal Gas is hoping relief wells will fix the problem, though it will take at least six weeks to reach the base of the well 1.6 miles below the surface. The leak, as of early January, had released more than 77 million kilograms of methane into the air, sickening people up to a mile away and blanketing residential areas with the rotten egg smell added to natural gas. And on at least 14 occasions, air samples have revealed airborne levels of cancer-causing benzene higher than what SoCal Gas reported, according to AP. The company blames an "oversight" and says the problem has been fixed. While concern has been focused on the areas closet to the well, one analysis revealed elevated methane levels up to eight miles away, Gizmodo reports. (Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, and more than 2,500 residents have been relocated.)