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Thousands of People Live Closer to Underground Gas Wells Than Previously Thought

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The boundary of Southern California Gas Company property, where the Aliso Canyon Oil Field is located.

When you picture underground natural gas storage (if you picture it at all), you might conjure up a remote industrial landscape: pipes, machinery, barbed wire fences. But new research from Harvard University paints a vastly different picture. According to a study released Sunday, much more natural gas infrastructure is in residential areas than researchers previously thought.

In fact, more than half of the underground natural gas wells the study looked at across six states were within one city block’s distance from a home. That could mean a potential disaster for residential communities if a gas well fails.

The study comes from Harvard C-CHANGE (short for the Center for Climate, Health, and Global Environment) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It’s part of an ongoing effort to better understand the populations at risk and the potential health impacts of a well failure like the 2015 Aliso Canyon well blowout in southern California that temporarily displaced over 11,000 people. This is the first time researchers have tried to quantify, outside of California, just how many people live near the kind of well that failed in the Aliso Canyon event.

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