The Invisible Catastrophe
Over the course of four months, 97,100 metric tonsof methane quietly leaked out of a single well into California’s sky. Scientists and residents are still trying to figure out just how much damage was done.
By NATHANIEL RICH
‘It just seems like a beautiful day in Southern California,” Bryan Caforio said.
Caforio and I sat at a Starbucks overlooking an oceanic parking lot crowded with shoppers.
The air was still, dry, 70 degrees. Caforio, a young trial lawyer running for Congress in the state’s 25th District, gestured at the pink and orange striations of sky above Aliso Canyon, its foothills bronze in the falling daylight. “It seems like a beautiful sunset in a wonderful community,” Caforio said, “and we’re sitting outside, enjoying a wonderful coffee.”
O’Connor asked whether there was a safe distance from the well at which the airplane could fly. The company said there was not. Conley was forced to turn back.
By 2030, increased rates of heat stress, infectious-disease transmission and malnutrition caused by climate change are expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths a year. Yet as gargantuan as the Aliso Canyon emissions might be, their influence on the climate would have no immediate or direct effect on the lives of the residents of Porter Ranch. Residents were as concerned about the leak’s contribution to atmospheric warming in the years and centuries to come as everyone else on the planet — which is to say, not especially. We are already immersed in leaking invisible gases with largely invisible effects too overwhelming to control. What difference was another Lebanon’s worth of emissions?