The mayor of Los Angeles demanded accountability Friday for an ongoing leak at a Southern California Gas Co. facility but said the "first responsibility" is to cap the well, which has been spewing natural gas for more than two months.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency over the gas leak near Porter Ranch, which has forced thousands of households to relocate and prompted widespread complaints of headaches, nausea and other ailments.
Garcetti said the leak at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, operated by Southern California Gas Company, "has been traumatizing for our Porter Ranch residents."
He described it as a "disaster on the scale of what we saw with Deepwater Horizon," referencing the 2010 BP spill that sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The mayor said "there will be hell to pay for this," with the City Attorney Mike Feuer suing and several class action lawsuits filed.
"In the meantime, we've got to make sure these families and these kids are safe," Garcetti said on KNX radio's "Ask the Mayor" show when asked if whoever is responsible should face criminal charges.
On Friday, demonstrators rallied outside the Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., calling for the permanent closure of the gas storage facility.
Protesters said the state has been too slow to react as 50,000 pounds of noxious gas continues to leak each day into the largely residential community.
More than 2,000 people are expected to attend a meeting held by the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Porter Ranch on Friday evening, where state experts will inform the public and answer questions. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Shepherd of the Hills Church.
Meanwhile, SoCal Gas is now saying it understated the number of times airborne levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have spiked during the crisis.
The utitlity company had been saying that just two air samples over the past three months showed elevated concentrations of the compound. Now, it admits higher-than-normal readings had been found at least 14 times.
SoCalGas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said Thursday that it was "an oversight" that was being corrected. Utility officials continued to assert that the leak has posed no long-term risk to the public.
The company is in the process of digging relief wells that are expected to allow the company to cap the leak. That process, however, likely will not be completed until February or March.
Since the leak was detected, more than 2,000 households and two schools have been relocated, according to SoCalGas.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the leak has released some 84,000 metric tons of methane and 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as of Friday.
City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.