Largest methane leak in US history fails to attract major media attention

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

A methane leak in the Aliso Canyon in California was the largest methane leak in US history, emitting 5 billion cubic feet, or 97,100 tons of methane from Oct. 23, when the leak was discovered, until it was fully stopped on Feb. 18.

The US attended the Paris Climate Summit last year, where the country was part of an international climate agreement, requiring countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate the problem of climate change. Single incidents such as the Aliso Canyon methane leak accounted for one-quarter of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions, while the state has pledged to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with 87 times more global warming potential of carbon dioxide. When the impact is projected over 20 years, the environmental damage is equal to the emissions from six coal-fired power plants or seven million cars. The leak created a public health and statewide environmental emergency. It pushed an estimated over 5,000 families from their homes in the community of Porter Ranch, while dozens of lawsuits pend against Southern California Gas Co. for failing to immediately report the leak and discharging air contaminants.

The methane leak received coverage from many corporate media outlets (Washington Post, BBC News, Los Angeles Times, CBS, New York Times), but as it is often characterized as the greatest environmental disaster since the 2010 BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast, it did not receive comparable adequate coverage. The BP oil spill dominated the news cycle for the five months it was leaking an estimated 4.9 billion barrels of crude oil. In 2010, images of the oil spill under water were shown daily on many media outlets. Meanwhile, the invisible methane leak had limited coverage over the 16-week period it was occurring. It did not receive adequate coverage proportional to the leak’s damaging effects.


Stephen Ewart, “California gas leak called ‘BP spill on land’”, Calgary Herald, January 8 2016,

Bobby Magill “Study: California Methane Leak Largest in U.S. History, Climate Central, February 25th 2016.

Eric Pianin, “Why the Gas Leak in California No One is Talking About Is Such a Disaster”, The Fiscal Times, January 3, 2016.

“Erin Brockovich: California Methane Gas Leak is Worst U.S. Environmental Disaster Since BP Oil Spill”, Democracy Now!, December 30, 2015,

“Southern California Gas Company Faces Criminal Charges over Methane Leak”, Democracy Now!, February 3, 2016,

Student Researcher: Joelle Seal (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia W. Elliott (University of Regina)