<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Southern California News - Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/localen-usThu, 18 Jul 2019 04:44:25 -0700Thu, 18 Jul 2019 04:44:25 -0700NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Report on Largest US Methane Leak Cites Maintenance Failures Before 2015 Blowout]]>Fri, 17 May 2019 13:43:55 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

An investigation into the cause of the largest-known release of methane in the U.S. faults a California utility for the way it maintained its natural gas storage field before the massive 2015 blowout.

The report released Friday by the California Public Utilities Commission says Southern California Gas Co. didn't assess its wells for disaster potential and didn't investigate previous ruptures. Specifically, the leak's direct cause was a rupture of the well due to microbial corrosion from the outside that resulted from contact with groundwater, the report states. 

The report says the highly pressurized corroded pipe ruptured Oct. 23, 2015, and caused the blowout.

The report by Blade Energy Partners says the blowout that lasted nearly four months and was blamed for sickening thousands of residents in the Porter Ranch area northwest of Los Angeles could have been plugged sooner.

SoCalGas in a press release highlighted a report finding that said new state regulations and practices by the company address most, if not all, of the causes of the leak.

"Aliso Canyon is safe to operate and Blade's report indicates the industry leading safety enhancements and new regulations put in place after the leak should prevent this type of incident from occurring again," the company said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[18 Protesters, Truck Driver Arrested at Aliso Canyon Protest]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 17:42:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/aliso_canyon_protests_photo_1200x675_1079833667968.jpg

Eighteen protesters and a truck driver were arrested Monday as dozens of people gathered at the entrance of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch, calling for a permanent closure of the facility that was the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

Chanting slogans such as "Shut it all down" and waving signs shaped like tombstones, dozens of residents and members of the Save Porter Ranch community group gathered in front of the facility, arguing that people are still experiencing health problems stemming from the 2015-16 leak and from the facility's continued operation.

Southern California Gas Co. and other state agencies "swore up and down, they certified just a couple weeks ago ... that that facility is safe," said Matt Pakucko of Save Porter Ranch. "Liars. Liars or incompetent? Which one is it?"

The rally was held in conjunction with the second anniversary of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and continued emanating methane until a Feb. 11, 2016, announcement that the leak was capped. The leak poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air.

At its peak, the escaping gas forced an estimated 15,000 Porter Ranch area residents to temporarily relocate.

Limited operations resumed at the natural gas facility in late July with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.

Protest organizers said they want Gov. Jerry Brown to order the immediate shutdown of the facility. The governor's office has said that Brown has directed state agencies to prepare for the ultimate closure of the facility, although such a move likely would not occur for about a decade.

"People are making sacrifices. This is a work day. It's a school day," resident Craig Galanti said, motioning toward the crowd that gathered at the facility. "People are here. It's time for others to step up, because this could happen to you."

Protesters remained outside Aliso Canyon for several hours, with some sitting on the roadway into the facility.

At one point a big rig driver appeared to try to drive through the crowd, creating a panic. Protesters and police surrounded the front of the truck, forcing the driver to reverse and drive away. Police arrested the driver on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon using a vehicle, said Los Angeles Police Officer Mike Lopez.

Eighteen protesters were also arrested for failure to disperse after police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.

Southern California Gas Co. officials have repeatedly insisted that Aliso Canyon is safe to operate, contending that the utility has gone above and beyond state safety requirements. SoCalGas officials also contend the plant "has undergone more safety and regulatory scrutiny" than any other similar facility in the country. The utility insists the facility is now subject to the "most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation," including continued testing of wells, pressure monitoring of all wells, four- times-daily visual well inspections and operation of a fence-line methane monitoring system.



Photo Credit: Dean Musgrove/SCNG]]>
<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Injections Begin Despite Block Attempt]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 16:01:08 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP_17200812331066.jpg

With a state appeals court rejecting Los Angeles County's bid to block renewed operations at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, Southern California Gas Co. officials announced Monday it has resumed the process of injecting gas into the basin.

In a message to residents, SoCalGas announced that the company has "completed the steps necessary to safely begin injections" at the facility— the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

According to the utility, the company had to complete six steps before resuming operations at Aliso Canyon, including submitting risk-management and other reports, making a thorough check for leaks, conducting a flyover to record background methane emissions and performing tasks on a "pre-start compressor and equipment checklist."

"SoCalGas must begin injections to comply with the CPUC directive to maintain sufficient natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon to support the reliability of the region's natural gas and electricity systems," according to the Gas Co.'s community message.

The announcement came just hours after Los Angeles County filed a roughly 60-page motion with the state 2nd District Court of Appeal in hopes of winning a court order blocking the resumption of gas injections at Aliso Canyon. By mid-afternoon, however, the court issued an order denying the county's request for an immediate stay.

On July 19, regulators from the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources ruled that SoCalGas could resume limited injections of natural gas into Aliso Canyon. State officials said the facility would be permitted to operate at roughly 28 percent of its capacity, enough to prevent any power shortages in the Southland.

The county filed court papers last week seeking a restraining order to block the effort, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. rejected the request, saying he did not have the authority to "interfere" in the operation of a facility governed by the CPUC.

Later that day, the county went to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal, which issued a stay late Friday blocking any resumption of gas injections at Aliso Canyon.

The appellate court, however, lifted the stay late Saturday in response to papers filed by SoCalGas, leading to Monday's renewed round of legal maneuvering.

The Aliso Canyon facility has been largely out of operation since the massive leak of late 2015 and early 2016 that forced thousands of residents from their homes and prompted calls by some residents to shutter the facility altogether.

The Aliso Canyon leak was discovered on Oct. 24, 2015, and continued emanating methane until a Feb. 11, 2016, announcement that the leak was capped. The leak poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air.

At its peak, the escaping gas forced an estimated 15,000 Porter Ranch area residents to temporarily relocate.

In their Monday morning court filing seeking to block resumed activity at Aliso Canyon, attorneys for the county argued that state regulators failed to meet all of the requirements needed to authorize a re-start of the facility.

DOGGR "has not addressed the substantial seismic risk of again injecting gas into the Aliso Canyon facility, nor has it conducted a public hearing after completion of its safety assessment," according to the latest filing. "And, it has not made any effort to comply with" state environmental requirements.

SoCalGas officials insist that Aliso Canyon is safe to re-open, contending that the utility has gone above and beyond state safety requirements.

"In fact, DOGGR says Aliso Canyon 'has undergone more safety and regulatory scrutiny during this period than any of California's 13 other underground natural gas storage facilities, and likely more safety scrutiny from a regulatory agency than any other gas storage facility in the United

States,'" SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said.

SoCalGas officials have also rejected arguments over seismic safety, saying the issue was "carefully considered" by state regulators before they decided the facility is safe to resume limited operations.

In the utility's Monday announcement of resumed activity at the facility, officials said Aliso Canyon "will be held to what regulators have called the most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation," including continued testing of wells, pressure monitoring of all

wells, four-times-daily visual well inspections and operation of a fence-line methane monitoring system.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Kathryn Barger said she and other county officials believe the facility should not reopen until a study is completed on the cause of the 2015-16 gas leak. They also contend further study is needed on the possible damage a large earthquake could cause to the storage field.

"I strongly believe that without a root-cause analysis, seismic risk assessments and a long-term energy reliability study, this facility — which jeopardized the health and safety of local families for months — should not be allowed to reopen," Barger said.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Facility Can Reopen]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 07:48:54 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/fuga+gas+porter+ranch+los+angeles+california+telemundo+52.jpg

The planned reopening of a massive Los Angeles natural gas storage facility that spewed methane for months has only renewed the fight over its future.

California state officials on Wednesday cleared the way for resumption at reduced capacity in the next few weeks of natural gas pumping into the underground Aliso Canyon facility after 17 months of testing and inspections.

The announcement brought fierce opposition from residents who were made sick and driven from their homes by the leak, and vows of action by the advocates and local officials who represent them.

"I think it's absolutely ludicrous that they're claiming this facility is safe," said Alexandra Nagy of Food and Water Watch, a group that has helped lead the opposition to the field's continued existence. "From my perspective this facility will never be safe."

Scott Kuhn, principal deputy county counsel for Los Angeles County, said the county planned to seek a court injunction as early as Friday to block the reopening, noting that the cause of the blowout is still under investigation.

A joint statement from the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission, however, said that Aliso Canyon "is safe to operate and can reopen at a greatly reduced capacity in order to protect public safety and prevent an energy shortage in Southern California."

The vast field will be restricted to about 28 percent of its massive capacity, storing up to 23.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, officials said.

Operations could resume in a week or two, said Tim Sullivan, the PUC's executive director.

Aliso Canyon, nestled in the mountains above the San Fernando Valley, is the biggest natural storage facility west of the Mississippi River. An October 2015 blowout of an underground storage well led to the largest-known release of methane in the U.S. and widespread complaints of nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and other symptoms that persisted even after the leak was capped a year ago.

The PUC is determining whether the storage facility is necessary or should be closed but it could take another year or year-and-a-half before the "ultimate fate" of the field is determined, Sullivan said at a news conference.

California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller said Gov. Jerry Brown has asked him to plan for such a closure. In a letter to the PUC, Weisenmiller said he's ready to work on phasing out the facility within a decade.

The blowout occurred in a well over 60 years old. It was one of 115 wells at a vacant oil field that was converted in the 1970s to store gas a mile-and-a-half underground where crude had been removed.

About a third of the wells have passed a rigorous battery of tests prescribed by the state to inject or withdraw more gas in the mostly empty field. The remaining wells have been taken out of service and must pass state-mandated tests within a year or be permanently sealed.

The company and energy regulators said the field was critical to provide home heating and powering gas-fired electricity plants in the area during energy spikes, though predictions of more than a dozen blackouts last summer never occurred.

Southern California Gas Co., which operates the facility, had asked in November for permission to resume pumping natural gas into the field.

In a statement, the utility said new regulations mean that the gas will flow at reduced pressure through new steel tubing and wells will be monitored around the clock.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[Regulators Propose Stiff Regulations After Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Sat, 20 May 2017 08:39:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/fuga+gas+porter+ranch+los+angeles+california+telemundo+52.jpg

California oil and gas regulators proposed stiff new regulations Friday for underground gas natural storage facilities after a blowout drove 8,000 families from their Los Angeles homes.

The rules proposed by the Department of Conservation follow the massive Southern California Gas Co. leak capped last year that persisted nearly four months and led to widespread complaints of headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and other maladies.

Ken Harris, supervisor of the department's oil and gas division, said the regulations aimed at making all 12 underground natural gas storage fields in the state safer are believed to be the strictest and most comprehensive in the nation.

The agency had been criticized for being easy on industry before the October 2015 blowout at the Aliso Canyon facility above the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley.

Proposed regulations intended at preventing future leaks would set standards for stronger well construction, daily testing for leaks and more rigorous inspections of well integrity. It would also require emergency response plans and contingencies for disasters such as earthquakes, spills, explosions or fires.

Wells would also need to have secondary protection from a leak.

The well that failed was being used to inject and withdraw natural gas through both an internal pipe and an outer steel casing intended as a protective layer.

The method, which is employed throughout the industry, allowed larger volumes of gas to pass through both spaces, but put the system in jeopardy if there was a leak, experts said.

The Aliso Canyon blowout is believed to have occurred when the protective outer casing failed in a well that was over 60 years old. Gas under high pressure escaped and forced its way from a depth of 900 feet to the surface where it couldn't be contained for months.

The proposed regulations would overlap with some of the stiffer requirements put in place at Aliso Canyon, where 45 of utility's 114 wells have now passed rigorous tests and the remaining wells are out of operation.

Regulators are still weighing whether to let SoCalGas, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, resume operations at the facility.

Many residents who live in nearby Porter Ranch and environmental groups want the facility to be shut down, though SoCalGas said it's a vital energy source in the region.

A spokesman said the company was reviewing the proposed regulations, which are open to public comment until July 13.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Housing Market Thrives Despite Gas Leak]]>Thu, 06 Apr 2017 22:05:07 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/260*120/porterranch3.JPG

A year after hundreds of families left the area in the wake of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak, Porter Ranch is seeing a potential real estate boom.

Evan Press and his family moved from his old house in Porter Ranch to Bella Vista Bluffs, a luxury subdivision by Toll Brothers, the primary new home developer, a few months after the leak was finally capped.

"I could smell it every once in awhile," said Evan Press, a resident. "You know, we hadn't had any symptoms from it."

Press's new house is closer to the once-faulty well.

"The beginning of this year has been great for us," said Frank Su, Toll Brothers' vice president.

Su said there's more than enough demand already for 1,400 homes, some already under construction.

They're selling at, or above, market value. There are no discounts related to environmental concerns.

Press doesn't deny that the Aliso Canyon leak affected peoples' health, just not his.

That's why he didn't think twice about moving there.

"My wife is a nurse, and my doctor said he didn't think it was a huge issue," Press said.

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<![CDATA[SoCalGas to Pay $8.5M Over Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:35:14 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/fuga+gas+porter+ranch+los+angeles+california+telemundo+52.jpg

Southern California Gas Co. reached an $8.5 million settlement today to resolve a lawsuit filed against the utility by the South Coast Air Quality Management District over the four-month leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch.

The settlement of the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2016, includes funding for a AQMD-sponsored health study on the impacts of the leak.

"Consistent with the commitment we made last year, SoCalGas has agreed to fund AQMD's health study. We are pleased to have worked with AQMD to settle this and other matters," according to a statement from the utility.

According to AQMD, $1 million of the settlement will go toward the health study.

"We are pleased to immediately kick off the process for an independent health study," said Wayne Nastri, AQMD executive officer. "This study will build upon existing health information and help inform the community about potential health impacts from the gas leak."

Another $5.65 million of the settlement amount will cover emission fees related to the leak, $1.6 million will reimburse AQMD for air-monitoring costs and $250,000 will cover legal fees.

Of the $5.65 million for emission fees, $1 million will be used to fund a "renewable natural gas production project" to demonstrate the viability of renewable gas, potentially reducing the need for underground natural-gas storage, such as that done at Aliso Canyon, AQMD officials said.

A four-month gas leak at the Porter Ranch facility from October 2015 to February 2016 spewed 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and displaced thousands of residents.

Officials with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission have recommended that gas injections resume at the facility, but at reduced amounts and lower pressure levels than those requested by SoCalGas.

State regulators held two public meetings last week on the proposal to allow the utility to resume injecting natural gas at Aliso, but one of the meetings was cut short due to shouting by hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents who want to stop the re-opening.

A judge in November approved a $4 million settlement that resolved criminal charges against SoCalGas, with the utility pleading no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the leak, which began Oct. 23, 2015 and was capped in mid-February 2016.

That settlement requires SoCalGas to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site -- estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million -- and to retain an outside company to test and certify that the monitoring system and real-time pressure monitors to be placed at each gas well are working properly. It also required the hiring of a half-dozen full-time employees to operate and maintain the new leak-detection systems.

The agreement also called for the company to revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies, and mandates training courses on proper notification procedures for all of the utility's employees who work at natural gas storage facilities within Los Angeles County.


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<![CDATA[$4M Settlement in Porter Ranch Gas Leak Angers Residents]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 19:39:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Residents_Move_Back_Home_After_Gas_Leak_Capped_1_1200x675_627322435718.jpg

A judge Tuesday approved a settlement between Los Angeles County prosecutors and Southern California Gas Co. to resolve criminal charges stemming from the gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility, rejecting a request by Porter Ranch residents to have the deal tossed so they could seek restitution.

Attorneys representing a group of residents suing the Gas Co. over the leak contended the residents weren't notified of the settlement agreement, which they said does not include provisions giving residents a chance to submit restitution claims against the Gas Co.

Several residents testified at the court hearing in Santa Clarita, contending they were left out of the settlement talks, to no avail. R. Rex Parris, an attorney for the residents, said he plans to appeal the decision.

Melissa Bailey, spokeswoman for SoCalGas, said the company is "glad to have this resolved."

"SoCalGas remains committed to working with our regulators and to complying with laws and regulations applicable to the Aliso Canyon facility," Bailey said.

SoCalGas pleaded no contest Sept. 13 to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the gas leak -- which began Oct. 23, 2015, and wasn't capped until mid-February -- to the state Office of Emergency Services and the local Certified Unified Program Agency.

Three other misdemeanor counts filed against the company in February were dismissed as part of the deal.

The $4 million settlement requires SoCalGas to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site -- estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million -- and to retain an outside company to test and certify that the monitoring system and real-time pressure monitors to be placed at each gas well are working properly.

Under the agreement, a half-dozen full-time employees must be hired to operate and maintain the new leak detection systems 24 hours a day at a cost of about $2.25 million over the next three years.

The agreement also calls for the company to revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies, and mandates training courses on proper notification procedures for all of the utility's employees who work at natural gas storage facilities within Los Angeles County.

SoCalGas will also pay $307,500 in fines and penalty assessments, along with more than $246,000 for the cost of the investigation and emergency response by the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Health and Hazardous Materials Division.

The utility is on notice that it could face a more serious criminal penalty in the future if the same unlawful conduct occurs, according to the District Attorney's Office, which said the settlement will not interfere with pending civil actions filed by Porter Ranch residents against the company.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak spewed more than 100,000 tons of methane into the air, making it the largest methane leak in U.S. history. Health concerns stemming from the gas leak prompted thousands of residents to move out of the area into temporary housing at the expense of the Gas Co. Following an extensive effort to clean Porter Ranch-area homes, the bulk of displaced residents returned in June.

County health officials received hundreds of complaints from Porter Ranch residents who returned to their homes and reported more health problems, including nausea, stomach aches and respiratory irritation.

SoCalGas executives, saying sweeping safety improvements have already been made at Aliso Canyon, including the replacement of inner tubing in the wells and the installation of more than 40 miles of new steel piping, have petitioned the state to allow it to resume injecting natural gas into the storage facility.

When the plea agreement to resolve the criminal charges was announced in September, SoCalGas said the deal "provides for the implementation of certain approved operational enhancements, including updated notification, monitoring and training procedures," and the settlement "is another important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community. These are in addition to other enhancements that have already been instituted by the company."

Utility executives said the Aliso Canyon storage facility "is critical to the reliability of natural gas and electricity services in Southern California. We are diligently working with state officials to complete a comprehensive safety review of the facility and are committed to providing safe and reliable energy to the millions of Californians who rely on us each day."

Attorneys for residents suing the company, however, filed court papers in October asking that the agreement be thrown out.

"None of the victims of the defendant's criminal acts were consulted about the plea agreement in advance. The settlement was presented to the court with no notice to, or input from, any of the victims," attorneys Parris, Patricia K. Oliver, Brian Panish and Robert Glassman wrote in the 16-page filing. "Neither the plea agreement, nor the court, so much as mentioned victim restitution as opposed to a restitution fine during the plea."

"... This plea agreement bears every indication of an attempt by defendant to cheat their victims out of their constitutional right to restitution," the attorneys allege in the court filing, saying the issue has "caused the victims great concern and torment."

The filing sought to have what the residents' attorneys call a "silent plea" -- with no mention of restitution to the homeowners -- withdrawn and "their right to full restitution be explicitly expressed by the court."

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<![CDATA[SoCal Gas Asks to Resume Operations a Year After Gas Leak]]>Wed, 02 Nov 2016 04:57:06 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

A utility that owns a natural gas well that spewed uncontrollably and drove thousands of residents from their Los Angeles homes a year ago has asked state regulators to resume operations.

Southern California Gas Co. said Tuesday that about a quarter of its wells in the Aliso Canyon facility passed state-ordered tests required to store gas for the winter.

The rigorous tests came after a blowout at an old well lasted four months in the largest-known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.

Residents complained of nausea, nosebleeds, headaches and other symptoms and more than 8,000 families left their San Fernando Valley homes.

The company still needs approval from two state agencies before it can resume storing gas in abandoned oil wells more than a mile underground.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Panel Recommends Safety Upgrades at Gas Fields]]>Tue, 18 Oct 2016 13:55:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

A federal task force created following the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak near Porter Ranch issued dozens of recommendations Tuesday aimed at bolstering safety at underground gas-storage fields, including design changes to ensure that a single "point of failure" in a well cannot lead to an uncontrolled leak.

In a roughly 90-page report, the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety issued 44 recommendations on topics including well integrity, response to a gas leak and reliability of energy supplies.

"No community should have to go through something like the Aliso Canyon leak again," U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz wrote in a message included with the report. "The recommendations in this report outline the steps we can take to prevent such an incident in the future.

Now, it is up to (the) industry to implement these recommendations in a timely fashion, while state and federal officials develop regulations that enhance the safety of underground storage facilities in the United States."

The report's recommendations include a call for new wells to be designed to ensure a "single point of failure" cannot lead to an uncontrolled flow of leaking gas, and that old "single point-of-failure wells" be phased out. It also called for storage field operators to adopt monitoring programs, integrity tests of wells and leakage surveys.

The document also address responses to future large-scale leaks, calling for early creation of a "unified command" structure and advance establishment of emergency air-monitoring plans. The Aliso Canyon natural gas leak began Oct. 23, 2015, at the Southern California Gas Co. storage facility and forced thousands of residents to relocate temporarily.

The leak was shut down 16 weeks later, on Feb. 11. By that time, the leak had spewed more than 100,000 tons of methane into the air, making it the largest methane leak in U.S. history, according to a study released in February by UC Davis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others.

At the peak of the leak, the amount of methane pouring into the air from the damaged pipe was double the rate of methane emissions from the entire Los Angeles basin, according to the study. Even after the leak was capped, many residents continued to report health problems such as migraines and respiratory irritation.

SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said the utility is reviewing the report, but said the company cooperated fully with the task force "and is committed to supporting forward-looking and reasonable regulations that promote safety at natural gas storage facilities."

"In accordance with new regulations and state laws, withdrawal and injection of natural gas will only occur through newly installed inner tubing of wells approved for use by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources," he said. "Consistent with the report's recommendation, physical barriers, or casings, around the new inner tubing will provide a secondary layer of protection against potential leaks.

"SoCalGas has replaced the inner tubing of every DOGGR-approved storage well with new pipe," he said. "In total more than 40 miles of new piping has been installed."

Gilbride said the company is also using an infrared methane-detection system and performing continuous well-pressure monitoring, along with twice- daily visual well inspections and video scanning of the wells.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pushed for the creation of the federal task force, and she called the report "an important first step toward protecting our communities from suffering another crisis like the one we saw at Aliso Canyon." "The recommendations from this task force would reduce the chance of future gas leaks while also strengthening protections for public health and the environment," Boxer said.



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Minor Gas Leak Detected at Aliso Canyon Near Porter Ranch]]>Wed, 06 Jul 2016 16:03:54 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

A minor natural gas leak was detected at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch over the weekend, but Southern California Gas Co. officials said Wednesday the issue was quickly repaired and never presented a safety risk to the community.

The leak, which was self-reported by SoCalGas to local and state regulators, was detected Saturday during a routine inspection, according to Melissa Bailey of the Gas Co.

"Company personnel performed a thorough assessment of the situation and determined the source of the gas to be a small leak from a nearby buried 3- inch-diameter pipeline not associated with the well's operation," Bailey said.

"Personnel isolated the leak, stopping the flow of gas and repairs were made Sunday. "...This was a very small leak and did not present a safety risk to SoCalGas employees or nearby communities," she said.

A major leak in a well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility was discovered Oct. 23, prompting hundreds of residents to temporarily move out of the area while efforts were made to contain the flow of natural gas into the air.

The leak was capped on Feb. 18. Following an extensive effort to clean Porter Ranch-area homes, the bulk of displaced residents returned to their homes last month.



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[SoCalGas to Stop Cleanup of Porter Ranch Homes]]>Mon, 23 May 2016 10:18:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has ordered the Southern California Gas Co. to halt its cleanup of Porter Ranch-area homes following a months-long gas leak.

The stop-work order came late Sunday, two days after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge mandated the Gas Co. to clean up the homes of residents relocated because of the gas leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

Public Health officials assigned environmental health specialists to observe the cleaning performed by SoCalGas contractors over the weekend and determined the cleaning did "not comply with the cleaning protocol," according to a statement issued by the agency.

"Public health found that the contractor was neither equipped nor trained for proper cleaning as required by Public Health,'' the agency said.

In response, the Gas Co. said it will adhere to the Department of Public Health's proposed protocol and were working to address any issues.

"We are committed to coordinating with the Department of Public Health as they continue to provide details about how they interpret their protocol and, together with the Department of Public Health and our contractors, we will coordinate to implement the cleaning process and avoid delays in completing the cleaning and returning people to their homes," SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said. 

The Gas Co. was directed to immediately discontinue cleaning and meet with county officials Monday to discuss resolving the deficiencies and ensure strict compliance with the court-ordered protocol. The court's decision required the Gas Co. to offer cleaning services to owners of as many as 2,500 homes.

Residents in hotels have until 5 p.m. on May 25 to request cleaning, and residents in housing other than hotels have until 5 p.m. May 27 to request it.

Once homes are cleaned, the residents will have 48 hours to return under the ruling. Residents who do not request cleaning had 48 hours after those deadlines to return home.

Public Health announced last week that its environmental testing found no airborne contaminants, but surface dust contained "low levels of metal contaminants'' consistent with those found in "well-drilling fluid,'' suggesting they came from the Aliso Canyon gas leak that was discovered in October and capped Feb. 18. The finding prompted the cleanup operation.

City News Service contributed to this report. 



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Study Finds Metals in Porter Ranch Homes]]>Fri, 13 May 2016 21:25:34 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Study_Finds_Metals_in_Porter_Ranch_Homes_1200x675_685578819598.jpgTraces of metals were found inside some Porter Ranch homes weeks after a gas leak was capped. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at 5&6 p.m. on May 13, 2016.]]><![CDATA[Traces of Metals Found in Some Porter Ranch Homes]]>Fri, 13 May 2016 21:27:09 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

Just weeks after a monthslong methane gas leak was capped, some residents learned traces of metals were found inside their Porter Ranch homes, raising new health concerns.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed findings from tests at a closed-door meeting Thursday.

Members from the Porter Ranch Community Advisory Committee told NBC4 the summary revealed a pattern of metals, including barium, after tests were conducted on 100 homes.

"There's going to have to be some sort of ongoing testing to help us determine what is making our families sick, and what is putting them at risk," said Paula Cracium, who chairs the Porter Ranch Community Advisory Committee.

While officials told community members new findings could perhaps have caused the headaches, nausea and nosebleeds some are still experiencing, they said the presence of metals do not pose a risk of long-term health problems.

Still, Assemblyman Mike Gatto said the new findings underscores the need for some relief for residents and "some real reforms."

"The presence of radioactive metals in the residue found in Porter Ranch homes is a small vindication for the families who have been suffering with symptoms caused by the emissions," Gatto said. 

Residents were told their homes would likely have to be cleaned once again and health officials would continue to monitor for metals.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered Oct. 23. It was unofficially capped on Feb. 11, when a relief well intercepted the leaking one. The leak was declared sealed one week later after crews pumped cement through the relief well, cutting off the flow of gas.

As of May 9, about 2,800 households have not returned to their homes in the Porter Ranch area.

The full study is expected to be released Friday.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cost Estimate of Porter Ranch Gas Leak Hits $665M]]>Wed, 04 May 2016 13:28:45 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

Expected costs from a massive gas leak near Porter Ranch in Southern California have ballooned to $665 million, according to the energy company.

Sempra Energy released the estimate in an earnings report Wednesday.

Southern California Gas Co., which is owned by Sempra, had estimated costs of $250 million to $300 million. That figure did not include potential costs from dozens of lawsuits or regulatory fines.

The massive gas leak that spewed uncontrollably for nearly four months temporarily uprooted 8,000 households.

It was capped in late February, but thousands of families remain temporarily relocated in housing paid for by SoCalGas.

The company has said it expects insurance to cover more than $1 billion and it has accounted for $660 million in insurance receivables.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Opponents of Reopening Gas Facility Challenge 'Blackout Risk']]>Tue, 12 Apr 2016 21:07:33 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/193*120/porter-ranch-leak-032816.JPG

Citing "misinformation and critical omissions," advocacy groups are challenging an assessment by energy officials that Southern California faces electrical blackouts during summer heat waves unless the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility is reopened.

Tuesday morning, the group Food & Water Watch will present what is expected to be a rebuttal of the report that forecast 14 days of electrical disruptions due to temporary fuel shortages at electrical generating stations that rely on natural gas.

Consumer Watchdog will join Food & Water Watch in calling on California's legislature to investigate the energy report and the future of Aliso Canyon, according to a statement issued Monday evening.

Located just north of Porter Ranch, Aliso Canyon is the largest of the Southern California Gas Company's four storage facilities, intended to provide a buffer for fluctuations in demand. However, movement of gas in or out of the facility was ordered halted by state regulators in the wake of the massive leak from a failed well first reported last October and not sealed until February.

Operations cannot resume until all 114 of the remaining wells are inspected and certified safe, or isolated from storage, under terms set by California's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.

Even since the leak was deemed sealed, hundreds of Porter Ranch residents have reported health symptoms, and some 4,000 residents that moved away have yet to return home.

The residents' group "Save Porter Ranch" and others have called for the facility to be shut down permanently.

Since February, officials with two California commissions, energy and public utilities, have expressed concern that loss of Aliso Canyon could affect energy reliability.

Details were spelled out last week in a "Risk Assessment Technical Report" prepared by staff of the two commissions, along with SoCalGas, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the statewide electrical power grid.

The report also raised the specter of gas shortages during winter cold snaps, but deferred details until a later analysis.  

Last Thursday, SoCalGas announced a plan to complete required inspections in the hope of resuming Aliso Canyon Operations in "late summer." Company officials repeatedly pledged their commitment to doing so "safely."

The plan was presented last Friday in Woodland Hills during an Energy Commission meeting focused on Aliso Canyon issues.

Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller said as long as the storage facility remains offline conservations measures could reduce the risk of summer blackouts, but not eliminate it.

Matt Pakucko of "Save Porter Ranch" contends scare tactics are being used. 

"The books have been cooked," Pakucko said.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Gas Leak Could Lead to Summer Power Outages]]>Tue, 05 Apr 2016 18:10:26 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

Parts of Southern California might face 14 days of electrical power disruptions due to unavailable natural gas after a monthslong leak at a storage facility in the San Fernando Valley, leaders from key energy agencies said Tuesday.

The blowout crippled a major energy supply for the region and required a partial shutdown. The storage field has not operated at full capacity since the leak was discovered in October, and the chairman of the California Energy Commission said Tuesday that the partial shutdown could lead to power cuts for up to 14 days as demand skyrockets during the heat of summer.

The information was presented at a meeting of staff members from the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The agencies worked together to assess how the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility would impact summer electricity supplies parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

They submitted a draft plan Tuesday that provided a range of recommendations to minimize the possibility of electrical disruptions during the summer. The field still has some gas in it, but officials are planning for expected shortages when gas is needed to power electric plants during peak summer demands.

Gas shortages to electrical power plants supplied by Aliso Canyon could interrupt supplies to customers, according to the agencies.

"Aliso Canyon plays an essential role in maintaining both natural gas and electric reliability in the greater Los Angeles area," according to the plan. "As a result, the facility’s limited current operations create a distinct possibility of electricity service interruptions in the coming summer months."

Possible actions include the use of 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas preserved in Aliso Canyon to be used during peak demand periods. The gas was preserved through an order by the California Public Utilities Commission. 

The recommendations include "strong energy conservation programs," such as the state's Flex Alert campaign, which warns residents and businesses to reduce energy consumption on high-demand days. Customers can sign up for alerts, issued by the California Independent System Operator.

Those plans and other measures "will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of gas shortages" that could cause outages this summer, according to the plan. 

The draft action plan will be discussed at a public workshop with the energy agencies Friday in Woodland Hills. The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Warner Center Marriott, 21850 Oxnard Street.

It is estimated the leak, active from Oct. 23 to Feb. 18, released as much as 100,000 tons of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, and an undetermined amount of different hydrocarbons, sulfur compounds, and other contaminants. 

Health officials said there was no risk of long-term health problems, although the presence of mercaptan -- an odorant added to natural gas -- could cause temporary discomfort. Many residents reported symptoms such as nausea, headaches and stomach problems, prompting them to move into temporary housing out of the area as teams worked to cap the leak.
 



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Indoor Air Tests to Begin at Porter Ranch Homes]]>Fri, 25 Mar 2016 18:54:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

Some 100 homes are set to be tested over the next few days in the Porter Ranch area where there are chemicals still lingering following the nearly four-month natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility. 

The testing comes as thousands of Porter Ranch-area residents who are  living in temporary housing funded by Southern California Gas Co. await word  from an appeals court on when they might need to move home.

Health officials, with the assistance of the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency and UCLA, plan to conduct tests in search of tiny particles, no bigger than a micron, that contain dangerous chemicals, to provide baseline readings.

"We could be talking about chemicals that came out of the well, under the pressure and the force of the pressure of the gases that were coming out," said Angelo Bellomo of the LA County Health Department. "This is of great concern from a public health standpoint."

While the leak was active from Oct. 23 to Feb. 18, county health  officials repeatedly said there was no risk of long-term health problems,  although the presence of mercaptan -- an odorant added to natural gas -- could  cause temporary discomfort. Many residents reported symptoms such as nausea,  headaches and stomach problems, prompting them to move into temporary housing  out of the area.

With the leak capped, some residents who moved back to their homes have  continued to report health issues, and health officials said they want to do  more analysis to determine why. Health officials said this week that residents  of nearly 200 homes have reported health problems after the leak was capped.

"I can't catch my breath. I have to take breathing treatment" said Porter Ranch resident, Mike Cunningham who has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Cunningam claims he has not had a cigarette since 1975 and said he was told by a local doctor that his symptoms and diagnosis may be a cause of dangerous chemicals. 

Last week, SoCalGas officials released the results of indoor testing  conducted by a private contractor at 70 Porter Ranch-area homes. The results  found no elevated levels of methane and no evidence at all of mercaptan,  according to the utility.

County health officials said they plan to take a wide range of  measurements to determine if there's anything lingering in the air that could  be contributing to health problems. Some residents have reported finding black  or brown oily residue on their properties, prompting SoCalGas to dispatch  cleaning crews to homes closest to the leak and to schools and parks. Company  officials said they are continuing to assess homes to determine if they need  cleaning, but stressed that no residue has been found inside any homes, only  outside.

Health officials said earlier that the residue is not believed to be  hazardous, although it could cause a rash if touched.

As of last week, about 2,600 residents were still living in temporary  housing, costing SoCalGas about $1.8 million a day. With the backing of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who said there  did not appear to be any reason for residents not to return to their homes,  SoCalGas was planning to end funding for residents' temporary housing today.  But a state appeals court this week issued a stay on the judge's ruling and  asked attorneys for the county and SoCalGas to file additional court papers by  Tuesday.

It was unclear when the appeals court might issue a final ruling, again  leaving displaced residents in limbo and uncertain when they may be required to  return home.

Gas Co. officials said that with the judge's decision on hold until at  least Tuesday, the company will continue funding the temporary housing through  Thursday, pending a ruling from the appeals court.



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Problems From Porter Ranch Gas Leak Persist]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 15:07:16 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

The massive Porter Ranch gas leak may be sealed and people are glad to be back home, but problems persist.

At least one family says it is dealing with petroleum residue after gas leaked uncontrollably for almost four months near Los Angeles, creating the biggest known methane release in U.S. history.

"I've tried with 409. I can't get it off," said resident Ron Fass.

Oily residue coats vehicles, fences, and exteriors of homes. It is more noticeable on white surfaces.

Residents said they've tried washing it and scrubbing it, but nothing works.

"Can you imagine we are breathing that stuff in?" Fass said.

The leak that uprooted 6,400 families, mostly in the Porter Ranch, was blamed for causing symptoms that included headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and respiratory problems.

Some residents believe the residue they're seeing came from the leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility. Possibly part of a slurry that was pumped underground to seal the leak.

Others aren't sure what it as and want it tested.

"What's the impact of that?" said Suneetha Gona. "You have the kids going around, the pets going around."

Gona and her family noticed the spots on her home's exterior and is so concerned that chemicals have saturated the interior that they're having carpet torn out.

She and others doubt health agencies' claims that there will be no long-lasting impact on health.

"Honestly, I am not confident," Gona said.

Officials with SoCal Gas did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

Some people who returned home complained of ongoing health problems, and the county said it was testing to make sure there were no contaminants in homes.

State officials declared the leaking well dead last week. Scientists said it had spewed 107,000 tons of methane — a potent global warming gas — making it the largest known leak of its kind in the U.S.

It contributed the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars in a year and at its peak doubled the rate of methane emissions for the Los Angeles basin.

State utility and gas regulators are investigating the cause of the leak and the state's air board is developing a plan to make SoCalGas mitigate the environmental impact of the blowout.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: File – AP]]>
<![CDATA[SoCalGas Appeals Court's Relocation Order Extension]]>Fri, 26 Feb 2016 11:33:34 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

A utility responsible for a 16-week natural gas leak in the San Fernando Valley is appealing a court order to extend housing for displaced families.

Southern California Gas Co. said Friday that it has challenged a judge's order giving residents another three weeks to stay in short-term housing. The gas company said air quality has returned to normal levels in the San Fernando Valley communities near its Aliso Canyon facility and public health agencies say there is no long-term health risk.

"Given these independent health findings, we were disappointed by the Court's order, as it conflicts with the science and health assessments made by the county's own health experts over the last few months and even as recently as Feb. 18," the utility said in a statement. "We recognize this is confusing for those deciding to return home or stay in hotels."

Reimbursements for residents staying in hotels and with friends were supposed to end Thursday, but Los Angeles County lawyers got a court order extending the deadline until March 18. Lawyers for the county successfully argued that although the leaking well has been capped, more time is needed to test that air is safe for residents to return.

The judge said the health risk to residents outweighed the gas company's financial risks.

Pending the appeal, relocated residents who are still in hotels will be allowed to remain, according to the statement. Residents who checked out of hotels Thursday will be allowed to return -- if rooms are no longer available SoCalGas said it would attempt to find another hotel room.

The 16-week blowout from a well at a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility spewed 107,000 tons of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, according to a study published in the journal Science. The leak first reported Oct. 23 at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch released the greenhouse gas equivalent of 572,000 cars in a year, the report said.

The total amount of natural gas released was second only to the collapse of an underground storage facility in Moss Bluff, Texas, in 2004, the report said.

The gas company has not publicly reported how much gas it lost but said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that about 5 billion cubic feet escaped. SoCalGas said in the SEC filing on Feb. 11 that it expects the blowout to cost $250 million to $300 million to pay for lost gas, capping the well and relocating 6,400 families.

The figure, which does not include potential penalties from government agencies or damages from more than 65 lawsuits, could go higher after Thursday's order that the company continue paying for short-term housing for those who have moved out of their homes.

The leak has been blamed for bloody noses, headaches, nausea, rashes and respiratory problems. Some residents who returned home already have continued to complain of symptoms.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Aliso Canyon Was Largest U.S. Methane Release: Study]]>Thu, 25 Feb 2016 21:31:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

A natural gas leak that sickened Los Angeles residents and forced thousands from their homes was the largest known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history, scientists reported Thursday.

The blowout from a well at a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility lasted 16 weeks and spewed 107,000 tons of methane, according to a study published in the journal Science. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Preliminary figures from the study were previously reported, but the article includes final results and puts the leak in context with other disasters and other sources of global warming.

The leak first reported Oct. 23 at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch released the greenhouse gas equivalent of 572,000 cars in a year, the report said. The total amount of natural gas released was second only to the collapse of an underground storage facility in Moss Bluff, Texas, in 2004, the report said.

In that case, methane -- a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide -- burned off in a fireball so the climate impact wasn't as great, said Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientist at University of California, Davis, who co-authored the article.

"In terms of climate impact, this is the largest," Conley said of the California leak. "If you're specifically looking at that, this is the winner."

The total methane released weighed the equivalent of two aircraft carriers and at its peak it discharged enough gas to fill a balloon the size of the Rose Bowl every day. The leak had been gushing nonstop for two weeks when Conley was sent in November by the California Energy Commission to fly his small plane outfitted to measure methane near Porter Ranch.

As he took a pass through the invisible plume, he did a double-take at results on a laptop tracking emissions. He was used to flying about a half-mile from a leak and finding methane measurements of 3 parts per million in a big leak and 4 parts per million in a huge one. He was a mile from the leak and the readings were 50 parts per million over the San Fernando Valley.

"What the hell is that?" he remembered thinking. "Do I have a problem?"

He checked a second instrument and it was no false alarm.

"Before we went, no one had any idea the magnitude of it," Conley said.

Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University who did not contribute to the study, said it was important to have an independent measure of the emissions.

The gas company has not publicly reported how much gas it lost, but said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that about 5 billion cubic feet escaped. That is similar to Conley's measurements.

The figure is important because the state is drawing up a plan for SoCalGas to mitigate the impact of the methane emissions.

On Saturday, utility officials said the leak was permanently sealed. Thousands of families who relocated to temporary housing to get away from the noxious smell received the all-clear to return home. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.

SoCalGas issued a statement in response to the report.

"It is important to note that experts agree there are no long-term health effects associated with this event. However, methane is a greenhouse gas, and it is important to put the amount of methane released, as it relates to greenhouse gas emissions, into context. According to measurements conducted by California Air Resources Board, the leak totaled less than 1 percent of California’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions," it read in part.

“As we have previously stated, SoCalGas has committed to the Governor to work with his office and state agencies to develop a framework to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the actual natural gas released from this leak. Our calculation of how much methane was emitted will be a more accurate measurement. Because this will take several more weeks, we are not in a position to comment on, or otherwise confirm, the accuracy of any other researcher.”

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP
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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Residents Heading Home]]>Mon, 22 Feb 2016 14:29:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Southern_California_Criminal_Charges_for_Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_1200x675_624838723647.jpg

As Porter Ranch residents return home following the biggest gas leak in U.S. history, many are still worried about the possible health ramifications.

On Saturday, Southern California Gas Company officials assured the South Coast Air Quality Management District and community through expert testimony that any methane leaks have been permanently sealed.

The board also approved testing air samples from some of the homes affected by the leak.

"People shouldn't have to move back until we do a sampling of tests," Congressman Brad Sherman said.

He stressed that not every single home would be tested. 

Four months after its detection, the gas leak was reportedly capped Thursday. Residents got the "all clear" in the form of a text from SoCalGas.

"It was relief -- I didn't expect them to seal it this soon," Chali Soltani, Porter Ranch resident, said.

Soltani was one of thousands of homeowners who had to evacuate their homes when the gas leak occurred. She said she is not the only one who's holding her breath when it comes to possible lingering effects.

"Our concern is with other wells up there," Jeff Phyllis, resident, said. "Are they paying attention to those wells?"

SoCalGas said crews would be inspecting all 114 of the wells. Meanwhile, experts assured that gas levels were in compliance with the order of abatement.

For those moving back, the question of whether they want to stay around or eventually move remained. 

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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Leak Permanently Sealed: Officials]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 22:19:12 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

Nearly four months after it was first detected, officials announced Thursday a leak of natural gas from a Southern California Gas Co. storage well in Porter Ranch has been permanently capped.

The utility temporarily stopped the leak last week by building a relief well more than 8,600 feet long and was injecting cement into the faulty well at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for a permanent cap.

Local, state and utility officials made the announcement at a news conference on Thursday.

"We have good news," said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas and GeoThermal Resources. "The leak in Aliso Canyon storage field is permanently sealed."

Final tests on the integrity of the cement cap were completed late Wednesday and air quality in the area has returned to normal levels, said Marshall, noting the California Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District had also confirmed the flow of gas had stopped.

Thousands of families who relocated to temporary housing to get away from the noxious smell will have eight days to move back. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.

"While the leak has been stopped and the well permanently sealed, we have much work to do, partnering with state and local agencies to help the local community and impacted residents return to normal," said Dennis V. Arriola, chairman, president and CEO of SoCalGas.

Arriola added that the utility started inspection of the other wells at Aliso Canyon to verify those could be operated safely in the future and that operations will shift to determining the cause of the leak.

The blowout at the largest natural gas-storage facility in the West was first detected on Oct. 23, and has spewed more than 2 million tons of climate-changing methane.

Residents have complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other symptoms. Public health officials blame the woes on an odorant added to the gas and said there shouldn't be long-term health problems.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency because of the leak, and SoCalGas is facing nearly a dozen lawsuits from regulators, residents and the city.

On Wednesday, SoCalGas pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges involving reporting of the leak to authorities and discharging contaminants into the air.

The company is charged with three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26, and one count of discharging air contaminants, beginning Oct. 23 and continuing for the duration of the leak.

"We do not believe a criminal prosecution is warranted here," said SoCalGas spokesman Mike Mizrahi. "We will look forward to presenting our evidence to the district attorney through the legal proceedings."

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city's Emergency Management Department will open an office in the Porter Ranch area to offer residents such information as potential refunds for city services, updates from the county assessor about possible impacts on tax bills, disaster relief for businesses and access to mental health services.

"Stopping the leak is only the first stage of recovery,'' Garcetti said. "Thousands of lives were upended by this disaster — and the city of Los Angeles is here to help people return to their homes, start doing business again and get back to normal as quickly as possible.''

As of last week,  4,645 households were living in temporary housing at Gas Co. expense. Another 1,726 households have already returned home, according to the utility. The Gas Co. said it also has installed 5,467 air scrubbers at Porter Ranch-area homes and performed "weatherization'' work on 5,410 homes.

LA County health officials said testing and air monitoring will continue in the area.

Residents can get updates on the Aliso Canyon leak, including  the return home process, at SoCalGas' website here.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal Gas Pleads Not Guilty in Gas Leak Case]]>Wed, 17 Feb 2016 12:18:29 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

Days after Southern California Gas Co. declared that it had temporarily capped a months-old leak of natural gas in Porter Ranch, the company pleaded not guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor charges for allegedly failing to immediately report the leak to state authorities.

Attorneys for the Gas Co. entered the not guilty plea in a Santa Clarita courtroom, and another hearing was set for April 19. Outside court, a spokesman for the company said the utility does not feel any laws were broken in its handling of the leak, and it is continuing to work to ensure the safety of Porter Ranch residents.

"We do not believe a criminal prosecution is warranted here," Mike Mizrahi said. "We will look forward to presenting our evidence to the district attorney through the legal proceedings."

The charges were filed by the District Attorney's Office on Feb. 2.

"While we recognize that neither the criminal charges nor the civil lawsuits will offer the residents of Los Angeles County a complete solution, it is important that Southern California Gas Co. be held responsible for its criminal actions," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at the time.

"We will do everything we can as prosecutors to help ensure that the Aliso Canyon facility is brought into compliance," she said. "I believe we can best serve our community using the sanctions available through a criminal conviction to prevent similar public health threats in the future."

The company is charged with three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26, and one count of discharging air contaminants, beginning Oct. 23 and continuing for the duration of the leak.

The charges are all misdemeanors. If convicted, the company could be fined up to $25,000 a day for each day it failed to notify the state Office of Emergency Services about the leak. It could be fined up to $1,000 per day for air pollution violations, prosecutors said.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have said they do not believe the gas leak poses any long-term risk, but it plans to continue monitoring air quality in the area. The Gas Co. announced Thursday that a relief well more than 8,600 feet long intercepted the leaking well and crews began pumping heavy fluids to control the flow of gas.

The company then began injecting cement into the leaking well, a process that was expected to take several days. Once the gas company seals the leaking well with cement, the Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources agency must confirm that the flow of gas has stopped.

Once the state confirms that the leak has been halted, residents who have been relocated from their homes due to the leak will have eight days to move back to their homes. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.



Photo Credit: File – AP]]>
<![CDATA[Energy Secretary Calls for "Fresh Look" at Regulation After Gas Leak]]>Wed, 17 Feb 2016 00:34:20 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/New_Infrared_Video_of_Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_1200x675_620851779946.jpg

After going to the site of the massive gas leak plugged last week, two officials of the Obama Administration spoke of the need to review regulatory oversight.

"Frankly, gas storage fields need a fresh look in terms of regulatory requirements," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "That was clearly brought home here."

Moniz and Marie Therese Dominguez, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that has authority over gas storage facilities, spent more than two hours Tuesday morning at the SoCalGas company Aliso Canyon storage facility above Porter Ranch.

A leak from one of its 115 wells was detected on Oct. 23, sending tons of methane and other chemicals into the air in a plume that was invisible, but the odorants carried by natural gas triggered more than 1,000 air quality complaints.

During the ensuing months, some 4,000 households and two public schools relocated farther from the leak. Last Thursday, Gas Company officials reported that the leak had been stopped, and air quality instruments showed methane concentrations suddenly dropping to background levels.

Following their time at the site, Moniz and Dominguez met with two members of Congress, along with state, county, and local officials in a "roundtable" at a Gas Company office not far away in Chatsworth.

"What we need is nationwide natural gas safety storage standards. We don't have them," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Porter Ranch. "The federal government punted to the states, and the state regulation is weak."

Though the PHMSA has authority over gas storage sites, in California inspection and oversight is handled by several state agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Rescources.

Moniz, a physics professor at MIT called to serve in the cabinet of President Obama, said overlap between state and federal regulation is not unique to gas storage facilities, but acknowledged that situation as "confusing."

In 1979, regulators permitted SoCalGas to remove and not replace an automatic emergency shut off valve from the well that failed, known as SS-15, one of 115 wells used to inject and remove gas from the geologic formation used for underground storage. Sherman and others believe that the presence of such a valve could have prevented the environmental disaster.

SoCal Gas officials reported difficulty in stopping the leak, and to do so ultimately had to drill a new well some 9,000 feet down to the bottom of the leaking well. A "Save Porter Ranch" activist who attended the news briefing said he had hoped for more than he heard.

"Someday, some agency will do some regulation to hopefully help us down the road," is how Matt Pakucko summarized the briefing. "In the meantime, we don't know if it's safe to go home."

Though the leak has been stopped, the Gas Company has said it's in the process of sealing it with concrete. When that is completed, state officials with DOGGR will make the determination whether to certify the leak officially sealed.

Sherman and another Congressman whose district includes Aliso Canyon, Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, have both introduced legislation intended to increase federal regulation of gas storage facilities.

Bills have also been introduced in California's legislature. One thrust of the bills is to preclude the Gas Company from resuming injection of gas into storage in Aliso Canyon until after a series of precautionary steps, including inspection of the wells, upgrading where necessary, and adding shut-off valves.

Since October, SoCal Gas officials have said repeatedly that the company is committed to complying with regulatory requirements, and whatever additional steps may be indicated by what is learned from investigation into the cause of the leak. However, the company declined to respond specifically to the comments made by Moniz and others after the roundtable.

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<![CDATA[Relief, Questions After Gas Leak Controlled]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:47:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

While a massive gas leak that spewed uncontrollably for nearly four months has been temporarily controlled, the road to recovery begins for thousands of Porter Ranch residents who were forced to relocate amid the crisis.

The announcement made by Southern California Gas Co. Thursday, marked a milestone in efforts to stop methane gas from leaking in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility first reported Oct. 23.

The news also brought relief to more than 4,600 households who are living in temporary housing, many of which complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments they believe are linked to the gas leak.

"We have an enormous amount of work to do, but for us to breathe clean air for the first time in three and a half months is huge," said Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council president Paula Cracium.

Cracium, who lives in the area, says the temporary cap is a step in the right direction but notes that it is the "beginning of an end of a major crisis."

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer agrees. On Friday, Boxer met with several Porter Ranch residents to hear their concerns before an afternoon press conference.

While Boxer said she was hopeful that a permanent solution would be imminent, she also called for an independent air quality audit inside and outside of homes in the affected area.

"We are dealing with entities that have not been trustworthy," said Boxer. "What I want answered is what are the next steps to make sure this doesn't happen and this area is safe again."

According to the utility, a relief well more than a mile long intercepted the leaking well, and crews began pumping heavy fluids to control the flow of gas on Thursday. Cement will be injected from the relief well into the faulty well as part of the permanent cap. SoCalGas said that could happen in the next couple of days.

Once State officials confirm the leak has stopped, residents who have been relocated from their homes will have up to eight days to move back to their homes. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.

However, news of the multi-step effort continued to raise questions on health impacts and the road to recovery.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said he and his staff were able to smell the methane at a community meeting Thursday.

"While the temporary containment of the Aliso Canyon well is good news, the victims' needs cannot be ignored," said Antonovich. "Our residents, who have had to deal with this crisis since October 23rd and have had their holidays ruined and forced them out of their homes and schools, now have to bear the burden of rebuilding normal lives -- still face uncertainty and fear of a repeated disaster from the remaining wells."

Antonovich is calling for residents to get 30 days to return home instead of eight.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 students at two Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were also forced to move due to the leak and concerns about its impact. The relocated students are expected to continue classes at their temporary campuses until the end of the school year.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have said they do not believe the gas leak poses any long-term risk, but it plans to continue monitoring air quality in the area.

City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Leak Stopped]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 08:18:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_Fix_1200x675_617127491990.jpg

The gas well above Porter Ranch that has been leaking since October has been temporarily capped, Southern California Gas Company said Thursday.

Thousands of households have been relocated after residents complained of ailments they believe are linked to the natural gas leak at the utility’s Aliso Canyon facility.

Residents complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other symptoms. Public health officials blame the ailments on an odorant added to the gas and have said there shouldn't be long-term health problems.

The blowout at the largest natural gas storage facility west of the Mississippi River has released more than 2 million tons of methane into the air above the San Fernando Valley.

The leak has been stopped by the building of a relief well, but SoCalGas said in a statement it will continue work on a permanent seal to the faulty well.

“We have temporarily controlled the natural gas flow from the leaking well and begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak.” said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, in a written statement.

Cement will be injected from the relief well into the faulty well as part of the permanent cap. SoCalGas said that could happen in the next couple of days.

Residents in temporary housing including hotels will have up to eight days to return home. Those in rental housing will return home when their leases are up.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency because of the leak, and SoCalGas is facing nearly a dozen lawsuits from regulators, residents and the city.

State and local regulators have launched investigations into the leak, which began Oct. 23.



Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Residents Displaced by Gas Leak Get More Time to Return]]>Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:59:23 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

Los Angeles residents displaced by a massive, 15-week natural gas leak will have more time to return to their homes once the well is plugged, under an agreement announced Monday between city officials and Southern California Gas Co.

The deal will give residents up to eight days to move back to the Porter Ranch area, rather than 48 hours, the utility and City Attorney Mike Feuer said in separate statements.

"This agreement will help residents resume their daily routines on schedules that work best for them," Feuer said.

Nearly 5,700 households have been relocated since December. Many residents complained about headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and other symptoms.

Public health officials blame those symptoms on the odorant added to the gas and say they don't expect long-term health effects

The deal would allow the company to stop paying for short-term housing such as hotels eight days and seven nights after the state declares the well permanently sealed.

SoCalGas will also pay rent and costs such as utilities and gardening services for the remainder of a lease term for temporary housing. In addition, residents will receive reimbursements for moving and travel expenses associated with their relocations.

"We are glad to offer additional time to help make relocated residents' transitions back home smoother," said Gillian Wright, vice president of customer services for SoCalGas.

The leak from a deep well at an underground gas storage facility was detected in October. The utility expects to have it plugged by the end of February.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Officials Says Porter Ranch Gas Leak Could Be Capped Next Week]]>Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:24:35 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_Could_Be_Capped_Next_Week_1200x675_616884803707.jpgA state official said the monthslong Porter Ranch gas leak could be capped by next week. Adrian Arambulo reports for NBC4 Today in LA on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016.]]><![CDATA[Gas Leak Might Be Capped Next Week]]>Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:42:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

A state official outlined a plan Thursday to cap the massive Los Angeles-area gas leak by the end of next week.

Wade Crowfoot, an adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, told residents of Porter Ranch that the final phase to intercept the ruptured well should start Monday.  It is then expected to take another five days to permanently seal the Southern California Gas Co. well that began leaking in October.

The announcement at a public meeting is ahead of the company's worst-case prediction that it would be plugged by the end of the month. The well has been leaking for 15 weeks.

The blowout at the largest natural gas-storage facility in the West has uprooted thousands of residents and spewed more than 2 million tons of climate-changing methane.

Residents have complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other symptoms. Public health officials blame the woes on an odorant added to the gas and said there shouldn't be long-term health problems.

SoCalGas said it paid $50 million to try to cap the leak and relocate people through December, but it hasn't given an update since on the costs. The number of relocated families has since soared to 4,400 residents, and the company is facing more than two dozen lawsuits from residents and several public agencies.

The company was charged this week by the Los Angeles district attorney with misdemeanor criminal charges for failing to let state emergency officials know about the leak for three days after it was detected Oct. 23.

Several state agencies have ordered the company to plug the leak and are investigating its cause.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Gas Leak]]>Wed, 03 Feb 2016 23:21:53 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

The family of a deceased 79-year-old Porter Ranch woman with lung cancer filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday that alleges a monthslong gas leak at the nearby Aliso Canyon plant is to blame for "exacerbating" her health problems, complaints of which have rankled the Southern California neighborhood.

The complaint against Southern California Gas Company claims the gas, detected in October, entered Zelda Rothman's home about three miles from the Aliso Canyon site in the San Fernando Valley and made her health problems worse.

"The gas replaced precious oxygen in the air that she breathed, causing her to suffer from difficult and labored breathing," according to the complaint. "As a result, she required the use of an oxygen tank twenty-four hours a day. The gas, and carcinogens within the gas, also weakened Ms. Rothman and caused intense headaches and migraines, among other symptoms. The gas leak deteriorated her health and ultimately hastened her death."

Despite being diagnosed with lung cancer, a neighbor said Rothman remained active.

"She was active. Traveled more than I did even after the diagnosis," said Sandra Fantini. She noted that Rothman told her the smell bothered her sometimes after the leak began.

Her son said that by Thanksgiving, his mother was using a cane.

"You could smell it outside, you could smell it in the house," Michael Rothman said.

Rothman said on New Year's his mother required oxygen and was later hospitalized. She returned home just days before she died last week. He blames the leak for adding pain to those weeks and shortening her life.

"They poisoned my mom. They exacerbated her already frail condition."

Attorney Scott Glovksy filed the wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday.

"We're not claiming the gas company caused her cancer," he said. "We're claiming that the gas company hastened her death."

Thousands of people living near the Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch have temporarily relocated, two local schools have closed and thousands of students have been relocated for the rest of the school year. Residents have complained of a recurring strong odor, and many have reported becoming ill with headaches, nausea and respiratory symptoms.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has offered assurances that such symptoms are short-term and tied directly to nontoxic odorants in the gas, and that there is no reason to expect long-term, chronic health effects. However, officials said last month that those conclusions are based on sampling done to determine "instantaneous" chemical levels, and do not provide as accurate a picture of average concentrations as do samples taken over a 12- to 24-hour period.

The lawsuit comes a day after California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Company that alleges violations of state law. SoCalGas issued a statement Tuesday saying company is "working hard to both stop the leak and address our neighbors' concerns. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process."

In response to an inquiry about the lawsuit, the utility issued this statement:

"We are sorry to hear about the family's loss. We are reviewing the lawsuit and will allow the judicial process to take its course."

The city and county of Los Angeles have already filed suit against SoCalGas over the leak, which was discovered Oct. 23. Late last month, Southern California air regulators approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing the release of natural gas.

The company launched a site that includes reports on air quality readings from a network of 20 stations from which samples are evaluated for certain hydrocarbons and sulfur compounds. The company maintains it has not found levels above health risk levels set by law.



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Calls For Investigation into SoCalGas Rates]]>Tue, 02 Feb 2016 23:45:36 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

Councilman Mitchell Englander submitted a resolution to the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday calling on the California Public Utilities Commission, which is already probing the Porter Ranch gas leak, to investigate the rate increases experienced by Southern California Gas Co. customers.

He said elected officials across Los Angeles have received many calls from constituents over "abnormally high bills" from the Gas Co.

"This bill-spiking comes at a time when SoCalGas is experiencing a major disaster at its Aliso Canyon facility," Englander said. "I am simply not buying that these two incidents are not related. It appears that the entire Los Angeles basin is now feeling the effects of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak."

The council is scheduled to discuss the resolution Feb. 10.

SoCalGas officials have vehemently denied any connection between bill increases and the Porter Ranch leak. According to the company, rising bills are the result of increased usage during colder winter months.

Gas Co. officials also said that higher usage can result in customers being billed on a higher tiered rate. The company also noted that some customers' bills were based on a billing cycle of longer than 35 day, which can increase bills by up to 30 percent.

Earlier today, Brad Sherman, a Democratic congressman who has a home in Porter Ranch close to the site of the gas leak, said he plans to introduce legislation designed to prevent more leaks in the future.

Sherman noted that the Department of Transportation Materials Safety Administration has established federal safety regulations for natural gas transportation.

"However, PHMSA has yet to use its existing regulatory authority regarding natural gas storage," he said, adding that the legislation he plans to introduce, the Natural Gas Storage Safety Act, would direct the PHMSA to implement safety standards for natural gas storage facilities.

"This bill is a backstop," Sherman said. "If PHMSA doesn't adopt regulations using its existing authority, this bill would compel them to act."



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[California AG Files Gas Leak Lawsuit]]>Tue, 02 Feb 2016 13:19:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/file-kamala-harris-ca-ag.jpg

California's attorney general announced a lawsuit Tuesday against Southern California Gas Company that alleges violations of state law in connection with a months-long gas leak in the San Fernando Valley.

Thousands of people living near the Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch have temporarily relocated, two local schools have closed and thousands of students have been relocated for the rest of the school year.

Attorney Generla Kamala Harris' lawsuit claims the utility violated California health and safety laws to quickly control the leak and report the release to authorities. The lawsuit also cites an environmental threat due to the release of methane.

"The impact of this unprecedented gas leak is devastating to families in our state, our environment, and our efforts to combat global warming," Harris said in a statement. Southern California Gas Company must be held accountable,” said Harris in a statement. "This gas leak has caused significant damage to the Porter Ranch community as well as our statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the impacts of climate change. My office will continue to lead this cross-jurisdictional enforcement action to ensure justice and relief for Californians and our environment."

The lawsuit seeks relief in the form of injunction, civil penalties, and restitution.

SoCalGas issued a statement saying company is "working hard to both stop the leak and adress our neighbors' concerns. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process."

The city and county of Los Angeles have already filed suit against SoCalGas over the leak, which was discovered Oct. 23. Late last month, Southern California air regulators approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing the release of natural gas.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Brad Sherman, who has a home in  Porter Ranch close to the site of the Southern California Gas Co. gas leak,  announced that he plans to introduce legislation designed to prevent more  leaks in the future. Sherman noted in a statement that the Department of Transportation  Materials Safety Administration has established federal safety regulations for  natural gas transportation.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein said last week that they will seek a federal review of the ongoing leak. The California Democrats plan to introduce an amendment to energy legislation currently on the Senate floor. The amendment would direct Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to lead a review of the cause and response to the leak at Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon site.

Gas Co. officials have said they are in the process of drilling a relief  well that will allow them to cap the leak, but that process is expected to  take weeks. The gas company also has created a website to provide updates on the relief well progress, air quality monitoring, community  resources and other relevant information.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images for Variety]]>
<![CDATA[Gas Leak Tech Introduced]]>Mon, 01 Feb 2016 19:52:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Students_Could_be_Relocated_Away_From_Porter_Ranch_Gas_1200x675_587338819927.jpg

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander announced a free "know your rights" Town Hall-style meeting for Porter Ranch residents affected by the gas leak.

He's also backing state-of-the-art technology he said can provide real-time updates on air quality.

Englander said the technology is able to accurately monitor the concentration of gas, every five minutes, in real time, something that hasn't been available to residents before now.

The company behind the air monitoring system is Argos Scientific.

They are donating their time and equipment to promote their company.

Company officials said they are able to continuously sample the air and report the results on a website that can be accessed by members of the community. Also people in the affected area can sign up to receive emails when gas concentrations spike.

"The reason we're having real-time monitoring and bringing independent experts here to this community is because we haven't seen from the regulatory authorities and agencies real-time monitoring that is shared with the public," Englander said. "It's important for the public to get the information today."

The air-monitoring system uses beams of light set up along the fence line between Porter Ranch and the Aliso Canyon gas field to measure methane gas. Another system measures benzene, toluene and xylene gases.

Englander also announced a free "know your rights" legal town hall-style meeting for residents at Shepherd of the Hills church Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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<![CDATA[Gas Leak Forces CA Secretary of State to Evacuate ]]>Sun, 31 Jan 2016 11:11:37 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

The number of San Fernando Valley residents impacted by the natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon now includes that of the state's chief election officer.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a resident of Porter Ranch, says he was forced to move his wife and three young children to a Burbank hotel where they have been living for the past month and a half.

"We bought a home a year and a half ago, never imagining our American dream come true would be interrupted like this," Padilla said on NBC 4's News Conference.

Hundreds of homeowners in the Porter Ranch neighborhood are now in temporary housing following the rupture of a natural gas leak at the facility operated by Southern California Gas. Many say they have experienced headaches, nausea and other ailments as a result of the leak.

"Between the kids and my wife feeling some of the side effects we have heard in the news, not taking any chances with three little ones we are temporary dislocated... in the meantime we are in a hotel in Burbank and we are making do," Padilla said.

Padilla, who served in the California State Senate and the Los Angeles City Council, says the gas leak is an indication that more needs to be spent on the state's aging infrastructure.

"It is not just bridges, it's not just schools...but whether it is water or gas infrastructure it has to be maintained," Padilla said. "To know about what we don't know about methane leaks and the amount of gas that has come out of that Aliso Canyon facility is very concerning to me as a father and a husband."

Padilla appeared on the program to endorse Senate Bill 450 which he says would make advancements in achieving a higher voter turnout in statewide elections. The bill calls for ballots to automatically be sent by mail to registered voters and would allow for in-person "voting centers" where anyone in a particular county can cast a ballot without the need to visit a local poling station.

The polling centers would be open up to 10 days prior to the election. Padilla says the idea is based on a similar law in Colorado.

"It is the ultimate in voter choice, when, where and how to cast a ballot. They seem to be saving money in Colorado... so lower cost, higher turnout, it is a win-win," he said on the broadcast.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Regulators Sue SoCalGas Over Porter Ranch]]>Wed, 27 Jan 2016 08:29:07 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

Regulators are suing the Southern California Gas Co., claiming negligence and seeking civil penalties against the utility in connection with a natural gas leak that has been spewing methane in Porter Ranch, California, since late October.

The complaint, filed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks up to $250,000 for each alleged violation of the state Health and Safety Code cited in the lawsuit.

Since the leak began, the district has received more than 2,000 complaints of odors from people living or working near the Aliso Canyon facility, the suit states. In addition, thousands of people living near the facility have temporarily relocated, two local schools have closed and thousands of students have been relocated for the rest of the school year.

According to the suit, the regulatory authority issued a notice to SoCalGas on Nov. 23 for causing "an ongoing public nuisance... due to odors from the natural gas leak."

The suit also claims "SoCalGas knew of the emission and… failed to take corrective action within a reasonable period of time."

Sam Atwood of AQMD told NBC4 general counsel should address the situation Wednesday.

"The next step is for the AQMD to put their money where their mouth is, to prove that the utility knew darn well that there was a problem here, they looked the other way, and they put lots of lives at risk. 2000 people are complaining. Now, they've got the power of the government behind them," said NBC4 legal analyst Royal Oakes.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto said it could be a game-changer. 

"This changes the dynamic because it indicates that finally the regulators are getting serious about the problem," Gatto said. "Getting the regulators to take action was one of the goals of our hearing last week. I'm pleased they're moving in the right direction, but the priority remains getting SoCalGas to plug the leak."

SoCalGas did not immediately respond to NBC4 for comment. 

City News Service contributed to this article.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Calif.'s Massive Methane Leak Highlights Crisis Across U.S.]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:04:40 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-505141910-shut-aliso-down.jpg

As the massive natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon continues to pump methane into the air above Los Angeles, environmental activists are warning about a much bigger and more widespread crisis that is not drawing nearly as much attention: leaks throughout the nation's oil and gas supply chain.

A series of studies spearheaded by the Environmental Defense Fund beginning in 2012 found problems across the country at every point of the natural gas supply chain, from thousands of wellheads to miles of utility lines underneath city streets. Emissions at the Barnett Shale in Texas, one of the country's major oil and gas producing regions, were almost twice the estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found.

Together the leaks add up to more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane emissions a year, dwarfing what is happening at Aliso Canyon — and producing the same effect on the climate over 20 years as 160 coal-fired power plants, the Environmental Defense Fund says. Earlier research of methane in the atmosphere indicated emissions were 50 percent greater than estimated by the EPA.

"Aliso Canyon on the one hand is unique because it's so big and because it is happening at a gas storage facility but it is at the same time very symptomatic of a problem that exists across the oil and gas industry," said Mark Brownstein, a vice president in the organization's climate and energy program.

With the United States now the largest producer of natural gas in the world, the Obama administration has been promoting it as a cleaner energy alternative. Even as environmental officials urge the country to lessen its dependence on natural gas, it remains a significant part of the U.S. energy mix.

And methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas. In the United States, it amounted to 10 percent of greenhouse emissions in 2013, the second most prevalent gas connected to human activities after carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. Pound for pound, its effect on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Complaints of headaches and nosebleeds
The leak above the Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch, which has sickened some residents, is enormous — one of the largest ever recorded, according to Timothy O'Connor, the Environmental Defense Fund's oil and gas director in California. It has released more than 87,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere since the end of October, the equivalent of more than $13 million worth of natural gas wasted or 827 million gallons of gasoline burned, according to the organization.

The escaping methane is a blow to California's position as an environmental leader. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced an ambitious goal of curbing greenhouse gases faster than originally planned — but now officials estimate Aliso Canyon to be responsible for 25 percent of the state's methane emissions. Brown was forced to declare a state of emergency at the beginning of the month while Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has compared the leak to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Aliso Canyon is used as a storage field by the Southern California Gas Co., whose crews discovered the leak at one of the wells on Oct. 23. The gas company says it could take until the end of February to cap it. A plan to capture and burn off the leaking gas was abandoned on Jan. 18 because regulators were afraid of a catastrophic explosion of the well. On Jan. 23, state regulators ordered the gas company to close the leaking well permanently.

The leak has driven thousands of people from their homes in Porter Ranch, many with complaints of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea, possibly from odorants that have been added. Natural gas has no odor so a smell of "rotten eggs" is added to help detect leaks. A group of residents have filed a class-action lawsuit and are demanding that the storage field be closed permanently.

"I think it's poisoning our family," one resident, Christine Katz, told NBC Los Angeles.

She and her husband, Brian, sued Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, in December after one of their children was hospitalized for trouble breathing.

"She's never had a breathing problem," Christine Katz said of her 2-year-old daughter, Ava. "She's never had asthma."

The Gas Company has said it does not comment on pending litigation.

"Stuff just goes wrong"
There are 400 other natural gas storage facilities across the country, with their potential for leaks. But it is the generally much smaller leaks occurring throughout the system that are more of a problem, said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor at Stanford University's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Science.

"Getting the overall leakage percentage down of the whole system, not just of any particular leak, is pretty important for future use of gas in the face of climate concerns," Brandt said.

Natural gas is a significant component of the U.S. energy supply — supplying a third of the country's electricity, heating about two-thirds of the homes and fueling stoves — plus it is used for plastics and fertilizer. 

An earlier study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and elsewhere and of which Brandt was the lead author, found that methane leaks had negated the climate-change benefits of using natural gas over diesel fuel for transportation — though it also found that generating electricity by burning gas instead of coal would still lower greenhouse effects over 100 years. That's because burning coal not only releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide but mining it also releases methane.

There are close to 1 million oil and gas wells across the United States and millions of miles of pipes. The methane leaks are a result both of aging infrastructure and the complexity of the system, Brandt said. Often wells are scattered in remote areas, added to the challenge of locating leaks and repairing them.

"You’ve got a complex system under pressure with a lot of devices and valves and safety systems associated with it and stuff just goes wrong," he said.

New federal regulations
David Allen, a professor in chemical engineering and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas at Austin, said that one way to tackle the problem would be to find so-called super-emitters or equipment, wells or sites that emit large amounts of methane and make repairs or replacements there.

"Often a small subset of wells, or sites, or specific pieces of equipment, dominate the emissions from that type of emissions source," said Allen, the principal investigator for one of the Environmental Defense Fund's studies, in an email.

For example, about 20 percent of pneumatic controllers — devices found all along the oil and gas chains to control the opening and closing of values — account for 95 percent of methane emissions from pneumatic controllers, he said.

The first federal regulations to require the county's oil and gas to cut methane emissions were proposed in August by the Environmental Protection Agency. The regulations are meant to reduce emissions by 20 to 30 percent; the EPA's goal is a drop of 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. In addition, on Jan. 22, the Interior Department proposed rules for emissions at operations on federal land.

The oil and gas industry says the regulations are unnecessary and expensive. The cost to industry, would be up to $420 million a year by 2025 but that would be countered by savings of up $550 million a year, according to EPA estimates.

Environmentalists back the regulations but say they do not go far enough because they apply primarily to new wells not existing ones.

Opposition from the oil, gas industry
"The fact is that America is already leading the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement. "Even as oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies."

The institute's president, Jack Gerard, has said that even as oil and natural gas production has surged, methane emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells have fallen nearly 79 percent since 2005, and carbon dioxide emissions were down to 27-year lows. The decrease was a result of significant investments in new technologies and leadership from the industry, he said.

The president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Barry Russell, said in a statement that administration was proposing a costly and complicated regulatory program for few environmental benefits. The cuts would inflict more pain on the men and women working in the oil and gas industry at a time when it was already buffeted by falling prices.

Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee, called the proposed rules another example of the "Obama administration's war on American energy jobs."

"The EPA's own data show that methane emissions in the United States decreased by almost 15 percent between 1990 and 2013, yet EPA is forging ahead with this extraneous and unnecessary regulation," Smith said in a statement over the summer. "Instead of conspiring with extreme environmental interests, EPA should stop punishing cooperative industry stakeholders and start partnering with them in their current efforts to capture methane in a responsible manner.”

The Environmental Defense Fund disputes that representation of emissions data and says that the 7.3 million metric tons estimated by the EPA show a 3 percent increase over 2012.

"There needs to be a requirement frankly that companies do systematic and routine surveys of their operations so that in the event that there is a problem it can be found and fixed," Brownstein said.

A handful of states, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wyoming, have implemented their own regulations for finding and fixing leaks — Pennsylvania announced on Jan. 19 that it would include existing natural gas operations — but others have not.

"I think that's ultimately why you need a federal standard, because some states are going to step up and other states won't," Brownstein said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Residents Seek More Info on Gas Leak]]>Tue, 15 Dec 2015 23:34:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Families_Hoping_for_Relocation_1200x675_586692675884.jpg

Nearly two months after methane began leaking out of a natural gas storage facility above Porter Ranch, residents are frustrated at the slowness of repairs and what they have described as a lack of communication and information, especially when it comes to health concerns.

Resident David Balen said he was enthusiastic when he learned about sampling canisters that are being placed around the community. They are supposed to be able to determine exactly what his family is breathing since the leak at the Aliso Canyon facility.

“I’m a factual person, I need to know the facts,” he said.

One of the law firms representing residents against Southern California Gas Company is behind the idea. It has arranged for six of these around the area right now — with another six expected — to share data of what residents have been breathing for the 53 days.

“This is their home, their backyard, their health, their welfare,” said Erin Brockovich, who is consulting with one of the law firms who may be handling part of the likely legal fallout from the ongoing gas leak.

Environmental activist Brockovich has been working with law firm Weitz & Luxenberg and as part of community events that have spurred many to request more information — including air-sampling canisters.

“You’re going to have to push these companies to be transparent about what the hell they’re doing,” she said.

But SoCal Gas said it has already been doing this — using the same canisters as well as other technology — and sharing the twice-daily air samples on its website for residents. The company said those samples continue to show readings the EPA deems not harmful.

But some residents, like Balen, said they say they need more of their own information to believe it.

“When the methane is at high levels, I get headaches,” he said. “My daughter gets nausea, that’s why she’s not at school.”

Balen and his family are hoping to be relocated while the gas company works to shut off the leak, something that could take another four months.

“Hopefully the gas company will give me the go ahead so we can move,” Balen said. “Today. Tomorrow. Let’s get it going. There’s a lot of people that are waiting.”

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<![CDATA[Board Votes to Relocate Students Due to Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Thu, 17 Dec 2015 23:13:55 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/215*120/porter_ranch_students_gas_leak_121615.PNG

The Los Angeles Unified School District board on Thursday voted to temporarily relocate 1,900 students at two Porter Ranch schools as result of a gas leak.

The decision came during a special meeting to consider declaring an emergency at two Porter Ranch schools affected by a natural-gas leak.

The board also considered authorizing its attorneys to pursue litigation against Southern California Gas Co. to recover any costs incurred as  a result of the leak.

According to an LAUSD staff report, Porter Ranch Community School is located about two miles from the Aliso Canyon storage facility that has been  leaking natural gas since late October. Castlebay Lane Charter school is about  one mile from the site.

"These two schools have been significantly disrupted by the gas leak," according to the report.

"Absenteeism and visits to the health offices at  each of these schools has significantly increased. Furthermore, since the leak  was first reported, families are opting out of attending school and are instead  choosing independent study for their children, while others have transferred to  a different school. Additional requests for independent study programs and  school transfers continue."

Gas Co. officials have said they are in the process of drilling a relief  well that will allow them to cap the leak, but that process is expected to  take weeks. School district officials said the process could take three to four  more months, necessitating action at the pair of schools.

Porter Ranch Community Schools has about 1,100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, while Castlebay has 770 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Under the resolution that will be considered by the school board,  Superintendent Ramon Cortines would be authorized to ensure safety, including  making alterations or improvements to the campuses or relocating the students  and staff to other district sites when classes resume after winter break.

School board member Scott Schmerelson and Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said the district has already installed air filters in  classrooms at the schools, assigned additional nurses to the campuses and began  daily air-quality monitoring.

In a joint statement, they said the problem "has become a distraction  to the teaching and learning taking place at our schools."

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency on Tuesday in response to the gas leak, in hopes of expediting state and local  assistance to help with air monitoring and efforts to cap the leaking well.

No evacuation orders have been issued for the area, but nearly 1,700  families have been relocated out of the area, and another 1,000 have applied to  be moved, at the cost of the Gas Co.
The Gas Co. opened a Community Resource Center in the Porter Ranch Town Center today to offer a variety of assistance to residents, including  relocation help.

The gas company also has created a website, www.AlisoUpdates.com, to provide updates on the relief well progress, air quality monitoring, community  resources and other relevant information.

Annette Arreola and City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Gas Leak Impacts Business Owners]]>Mon, 21 Dec 2015 22:44:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_Impacting_Businesses_1200x675_589765187741.jpg

Cafe Graikos in Porter Ranch has been open for 19 years. But lately, the empty tables have had owner Rob Derghan questioning his future.

"It's empty … that's not standard, but it is what it is," he said Monday.

As good as the Chicken Souvlaki is, Derghan said, the Porter Ranch gas leak has affected his bottom line.

"Lunch is slower, dinner is slower, weekends are slower."

Business is down 15 percent within the last two months, Derghan said. And, the effects are widespread. Empty storefronts and patiently waiting employees are becoming a familiar site.

"I would say it's almost always dead lately," receptionist Madison Zgrablich said, adding
that the Nail Garden off Tampa Avenue is taking a different kind of hit.

"We try our best to keep everybody on the same schedule,” she said. “We want to provide hours. We always provide."

But, the fact is, manicures are few and far between lately at Nail Garden and the store's daily staff of 11 is no longer needed.

So far, more than 2,000 families have asked to leave their Porter Ranch homes and relocate.

"We are hanging in there. We are going to do our best. We are here, for the time being." Derghan said.

A Southern California Gas Company spokesperson said Monday that the nearest home or business is over a mile from the gas leak.

The spokesperson added that business owners can file claims here.

As of Monday, the agency would not indicate how many business owners had filed claims.

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<![CDATA[Gas Leak Relocation Agreement Reached]]>Thu, 24 Dec 2015 10:01:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Students_Could_be_Relocated_Away_From_Porter_Ranch_Gas_1200x675_587338819927.jpg

An agreement reached in court Wednesday requires the Southern California Gas Company to find temporary housing within 72 hours for Porter Ranch residents seeking to relocate away from a leaking storage facility well, and sets up a mediation process to resolve complaints.

For the first time since the massive leak appeared two months ago in Aliso Canyon north of Porter Ranch, the Gas Company's ongoing response is now subject to court oversight, said Jim Clark, chief deputy city attorney for Los Angeles.

The city had gone to Superior Court seeking an injunction. But at the urging of Judge Emilie Elias, lawyers for both sides met outside the courtroom and during the morning reached accord on a plan that largely reflected what the city attorney had sought, as well as an action plan submitted by the untility.  The city had called for a 48 hour window for initial placement.  The negotiation added another day to that. 

"SoCalGas wants to work with the city and the county," said spokesman Mike Mizrahi.

Prodded by the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, the Gas Company agreed last month to arrange temporary housing, and cover the cost of it for Porter Ranch residents seeking assistance. Health officials foresee no long term effects, but say the noxious odorant added to natural gas is responsible for widespread symptoms including headaches, nausea and respiratory distress.

An effort to stop the leak, involving the drilling of a so-called "relief" well nearly two miles long, could take several more months, Gas Company officials have projected.

So far, by the Gas Company's count, it has relocated 2,174 households. Requests from another 2,694 are in process, said Mizrahi. To do this, the company has hired 17 relocations firms, he said.

On receiving relocation requests, the Gas Company has been attempting to place residents in hotel rooms or other short term accommodations within 72 hours, and then move them into rental housing tailored to the family's size and needs, Mizrahi said.  

In some cases, residents with large families have complained that provided accommodations do not have enough room, or are located too far away. Some residents have been placed in Burbank and Hollywood, they said, significantly increasing their commutes. Mizrahi said the company is committed to finding accommodations that meet the residents' specific needs.   

"We're moving as fast as we can," Mizrahi said. "But you're right — it is a challenge."

The agreement acknowledges it will not always be possible to find temporary accommodations within 72 hours.

"They told us they would do the best they could," said Clark. "They're now under court order to do better than they have."

Wednesday afternoon, a steady stream of Porter Ranch residents was arriving at the storefront "Community Service Center" that SoCalGas set up last week in a storefront at the Porter Ranch Town Center.

Vishvas Joshi said he previously had arranged to stay at a hotel, but he and his wife have been told they will have to leave Friday morning to make way for guests who made advance holiday reservations. Joshi came to the storefront hoping the Gas Company can find them a new place to stay, but said he got no reassurance it would be done within 72 hours.

"They said, 'somebody will call you,'" Joshi recalled.

Another couple is hoping they will feel comfortable staying in their home after ventilation filters are installed next month at the Gas Company's expense, but is seeking other housing in the meantime.

"My situation is I'm concerned about my health," said Elsa Shaw, adding that her husband has been unable to shake a cold for the past month and a half, and she suspects it may be due to the pollutants leaked into the air. Shaw said she's pleased with the arrangements for the filters.

"They were really helpful on the phone," Shaw said. 

Residents who feel the Gas Company did not properly handle their needs will have the option of bringing their complaints to a retired judge to mediate. Lawyers for the Gas Company and city attorney were planning to meet to select and reach out to judges, known as "special masters," to provide this service. If mediation does not resolve a dispute, the agreement enables the resident ultimately to bring the complaint to Judge Elias's court.

The agreement also formalized previous pledges by the Gas Company to board pets for relocated residents, and to fund any additional security deemed necessary by Los Angeles police to safeguard neighborhoods with large numbers of temporarily vacated homes.

Apart from the court action brought by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, a growing number of private attorneys are filing civil actions against the Gas Company. Three of them attended Wednesday's court hearing. One of them, Matthew McNicholas, called the agreement "an excellent result for the people of Porter Ranch."

Gillian Wright, vice president of customer services for SoCalGas told City News Service that besides working with the relocation agencies, the utility is adding other resources to help residents.

"We are committed to best efforts to accommodate all residents in neighboring communities who need relocation, including people with disabilities and access and functional needs," Wright said.

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<![CDATA[Christmas of Coping for Porter Ranch Residents ]]>Thu, 24 Dec 2015 21:39:01 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/socalgas-fuga-gas-porter-ranch-telemundo-52-los-angeles1.jpg

It's understandable if some in gas leak-plagued Porter Ranch mistook the man from Canoga Park Heating and Air for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, for he delivered — and installed — an in-demand present: an air scrubber system.

"It seems to be working, because I really don't smell anything in here," said homeowner Susan Whiteside, who got the scrubber to go along with charcoal air filters and new weatherstripping to
keep out odors.
"Right now, it's in high demand," said installer Mark Pearson. Needing to bolster supplies, Pearson's company found an east coast distributor to ship another 2,000, he said.
There is also high demand for temporary accommodations away from Porter Ranch. The gas leak from a well in the SoCalGas storage facility to the north became apparent on Oct. 23, and efforts to stop it could take several more months, the Gas Company has said.
SoCalGas is providing relocation assistance and covering the temporary housing costs. With some two thousand households already relocated, by the Gas Company's count, and another 2,694 "in process," finding close-by housing rentals suitable for families has become increasingly difficult.
The Chase family began looking for alternative housing last month, never expecting to still be in their house with the portable air filter missions running on Christmas Eve.
"The house normally looks like Macy's at Christmas," lamented Deborah Chase, wife and mother with two boys, ages 12 and 14, at home. "Now we have a tabletop tree on a grooming table
because that's as far as we've gotten. Because we planned on moving out in November."
Rentals that become available are often some distance away from Porter Ranch, and in some cases, south of the Hollywood Hills.
"In LA traffic, it's unrealistic to drive two hours to take kids to school," Chase said.
The Gas Company is covering pet boarding costs, but the Chase family hopes to find a rental that can accept Jackson, their Australian labradoodle. What's more, Deborah Chase said she has a carpet allergy that rules out places that don't have hard floors throughout.
She has not given up her search, but is resigned to relying on the air filtration machine through the holidays.
"This is not the Christmas I was hoping for," said Deborah Chase.
Her neighbors down the block, the Okonowskys, have also added air filtration and are planning to stay, but worry about their adult daughter Wendy, who is wheelchair bound with advanced multiple sclerosis.
"There is no house available without rebuilding an existing house to suit, that would accommodate Wendy," said father Jerry Okonowsky, a retired general contractor who years ago added a walk-in shower, an elevator, and other renovations to her nearby Porter Ranch house so she could stay there.
Okonowsky said he believes odors cannot be kept out of the house without replacing its aging metal-framed windows, and hopes the Gas Company will cover the cost, as it is doing with weatherstripping and caulking. But new windows are not part of the program, a Gas Company spokesman said. 
After reporting on the Okonowsky situation during the NBC4 News at 5 p.m., NBC4 received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as with a window company offering to replace the windows in Wendy Okonowsky's house without charge.

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<![CDATA[Stranger Helps Woman Affected by Porter Ranch Leak]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 01:05:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/223*120/porterranch-window-122715.jpg

After the gas leak in Porter Ranch, one family facing incredible difficulties due to a woman's disability got help Sunday after an NBC4 viewer saw her story.

On Christmas Eve, NBC4 covered a family's struggle during the ongoing Porter Ranch gas leak.

The family's home in Porter Ranch was retrofitted to make life easier for Wendy Corell, who has multiple sclerosis.

The home even has an elevator so Corell can easily travel to her bedroom in her wheelchair.

After the leak, many residents took advantage of staying at hotels until the leak was contained.

But that wasn't an option for the Corell family, whose windows are single-paned. They said the effects of the leak range from headaches to sore throats and more.

That's where Karen Derbyshire came in.

"The story caught my attention because, obviously, they need windows," Derbyshire, who runs James Price Windows & Doors in Torrance, said. "I suddenly thought to myself: you know what, I'm actually very blessed and maybe I can do something for somebody else, that's how it all came about."

Derbyshire's husband died suddenly last year and recently she said she's been immobilized after a serious foot surgery.

But she said she wanted to help Wendy Corell after she saw how hard it was for her to be trapped in a home with old windows leaking gas and unable to move because of advanced multiple sclerosis.

"As difficult as it feels for me, I know it's only temporary," Derbyshire said. "[Wendy is] brave and strong. Every day they go through it."

"She sounds like a person who feels for other people and is a very caring person," Corell's father Jerry Okonowsky said.

He has retrofitted her Porter Ranch house over the years to suit Corell's needs, but they don't have the money to install new windows. That's why Derbyshire has offered to replace all 25 windows for free.

"It makes me feel good. It's a huge difference to Wendy and her living environment," Okonowsky said. "You hear things, but you never assume that you're going to be the recipient of something like that."

The cost to replace the windows will be about $15,000, and the company will be out to measure and replace them in the coming week.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Brown Declares State of Emergency in Porter Ranch]]>Thu, 07 Jan 2016 07:33:35 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/socalgas-fuga-gas-porter-ranch-telemundo-52-los-angeles.jpg

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday for the Porter Ranch area in the wake of the ongoing gas leak from a facility in Aliso Viejo in Southern California.

The massive leak from a Southern California Gas Company facility began in October and has prompted the relocation of thousands of households from the area. Complaints of headaches, nausea and other ailments have been widespread.

According to one estimate, more than 78,000 metric tons of methane have leaked from the storage well. That's equivalent to roughly 745 million gallons of gasoline burned, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which has tracked the leak that began Oct. 23.

"The leak itself is a volcano of climate pollution. At its peak it was putting out as much [pollution] as 7.5 million cars per day," said Tim O'Connor, EDF's director for California oil and gas.

Students have also been reassigned from schools in the area to other Los Angeles Unified School District campuses until a relief well can be completed and the problem mitigated.

The governor met with residents and toured the gas facility Monday.

“Today's proclamation builds on months of regulatory and oversight actions from seven state agencies mobilized to protect public health, oversee Southern California Gas Company's actions to stop the leak, track methane emissions, ensure worker safety, safeguard energy reliability and address any other problems stemming from the leak,” reads a statement from the governor’s office.

The state of emergency means “all state agencies will utilize state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough state response to this incident. The Governor's Office of Emergency Services will also provide frequent and timely updates to residents affected by the natural gas leak and the appropriate local officials, including convening community meetings in the coming weeks.”

Residents have complained they were not being provided with enough information from SoCal Gas in the wake of the leak, including potential health hazards and a realistic timeline for when it can be stopped.

"This has been an emergency since day one, and we are glad that the state is putting more attention and resources behind getting this leak fixed," O'Connor said.

According to Brown’s statement, the state will take the following steps:

  • Stopping the Leak: All necessary and viable actions will be taken to ensure Southern California Gas Company: maximizes daily withdrawals of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for use or storage elsewhere; captures leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being completed; and identifies how it will stop the gas leak if relief wells fail to seal the leaking well, or if the existing leak worsens.
  • Protecting Public Health and Safety: The state will: continue its prohibition against Southern California Gas Company injecting any gas into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility until a comprehensive review of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community utilizing independent experts is completed; expand its real-time monitoring of emissions in the community; convene an independent panel of scientific and medical experts to review public health concerns; and take all actions necessary to ensure the continued reliability of natural gas and electricity supplies in the coming months.
  • Ensuring Accountability: The California Public Utilities Commission will ensure that Southern California Gas Company covers costs related to the natural gas leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers; and the state will develop a program to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane funded by the Southern California Gas Company.
  • Strengthening Oversight: The state will promulgate emergency regulations for gas storage facility operators throughout the state, requiring: at least daily inspection of gas storage well heads using gas leak detection technology such as infrared imaging; ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells; ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells; regular testing of all safety valves used in wells; minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility in the state; a comprehensive risk management plan for each facility that evaluates and prepares for risks, including corrosion potential of pipes and equipment. Additionally, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission will submit to the Governor's Office a report that assesses the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California.

The complete statement can be found here.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV
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<![CDATA[Temporary School Erected for Students]]>Fri, 08 Jan 2016 22:47:32 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/socalgas-fuga-gas-porter-ranch-telemundo-52-los-angeles.jpg

The Gas Company says it will try to capture and burn off at least some of the gas that has been leaking in Porter Ranch.

The leak has forced hundreds of families to move out of their homes. The agreement between the Gas Company and regulators comes with a number of requirements, including:

  • removing the existing gas from the leaking facility as quickly as possible;
  • using an infrared camera to continuously monitor the leak;
  • paying for better air monitoring;
  • and funding a health study on the potential impacts to the community.

Hundreds of students, meanwhile, are preparing to move to a new school because of the health risk.

"It's been quite the challenge," said Robert Doyon, LAUSD maintenance supervisor.

Never has LA Unified had to do what it did in such a short amount of time over the last 21 days.

"Twenty one days ago there was nothing here but game lines and basketball hoops," Doyon said.

Doyon said the school will be home to 1,100 Porter Ranch students on Monday.

"We've moved in 32 classrooms, two restroom buildings and one office building," he said. "We literally took their stuff from their room and moved it to a room here and gave them the same room number. Just to make them feel like their stuff is here, the kid's gonna open his desk and his pencil and paper that he left in Porter Ranch is now here."

Jennifer white, a kindergarten teacher, said she had trouble with the idea at first.

"I changed my mind twice," White, said. "I didn't want to leave our community. When we heard we'd all be on the same campus, several of us began crying. I'm a crier, so yes I did. We were just happy that we could be together."

 What should have taken six months to complete, happened in 21 days. Crews worked every day since, except Christmas.

"There were hundreds of men in the yellow suits from top to bottom in the pouring rain setting everything upm" White said.

The students will be housed at the school through the end of the school year.

"Drastic measures for necessary means, I think," White said.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Parents Demand Relocation of Porter Ranch Students]]>Fri, 11 Dec 2015 19:46:29 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/11-25-15-Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak.JPG

Protesters demonstrated at a Porter Ranch school Friday, demanding the Los Angeles Unified School District relocate students away from the northwest San Fernando Valley gas leak site and its potential long term health risks.

Parents from Castlebay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School said they should not be forced to choose between their childrens' health and their education.

"We understand that relocation is a big task," Dee Ann Abernathy said. "But we believe our children are worth it."

LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in a statement that the district is preparing an action plan to address the parents' concerns but did not provide specifics.

"We continue to monitor the air quality at Castlebay Lane Charter and Porter Ranch Community schools, and are posting the results, along with related information, on our website," the statement read.

Some parents, however, believe the district is stalling.

"Every meeting since we've been to, nothing has changed," Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the children who attend the schools have been suffering with vomiting, headaches, stomach aches, rashes and nosebleeds because of the gas leak. Abernathy said her family moved to a hotel in Simi Valley and her daughter has been missing school because she is sick.

A temporary flight restriction was issued Thursday over the site.

The FAA order requested by county and state emergency management authorities applies to flights below 2,000 feet and within a half-mile radius of the leak in Porter Ranch. Authorities issued the restriction, which will be in place until early March, due to concerns that fumes from the leak could be ignited from the air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The only exception will be relief flights under the authority of the Los Angeles County Fire  Department, according to the FAA.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23 by crews at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field facility near Northridge. Utility officials initially said the issue would be resolved in a few days or weeks, but later said the leak could actually take months to fix. County health officials say they have received reports of residents experiencing nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and headaches linked to the leak and have ordered Southern California Gas Co. to offer free, temporary relocation to area residents.

The leak prompted a state agency to issue a second emergency order to the Southern California Gas Co. Thursday, expanding on a previous directive requiring the utility to provide additional "data, daily briefings and a schedule for identified pathways to seal" the natural gas storage well. Utility spokesman Javier Mendoza said the Gas Co. was already working with experts from the division since the day the leak was confirmed, according to City News Service.

"Today's order formalizes a plan of action, developed under DOGGR's supervision," Mendoza said. "This plan covers important aspects of our operations as we progress through the relief well phase.

"We have been and will continue to fully comply with DOGGR's order. For example, we are providing DOGGR with all required information, working with experts to determine effective means to decrease and capture emissions, continuing our drilling operations on the relief well and preparing a site for a second relief well."

The division had previously issued an order to the utility on Nov. 18. The new order comes as Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the leak.

"This gas leak is not just a smelly nuisance, it's public health concern," Sherman said. "There have been reports of dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds in the area -- even causing some residents to relocate. The EPA should be investigating the cause of this leak and help propose action to fix the situation before more people become ill."

Last week, utility officials said crews began drilling a relief well that will ultimately allow them to cap the leak, but the process is expected to take months. Crews eventually will pump fluids and cement through the relief well into the leaking well to stop the flow and permanently seal it.

No evacuation order for the area has been issued but 700 families have voluntarily left the area and another 1,000 are applying for relocation services, officials said. The Gas Company also opened a community resource center on Wednesday for Porter Ranch residents with questions or concerns. A dedicated website has also been established.

In addition to offering extended stay accommodations for families seeking to temporarily relocate from Porter Ranch, the Gas Company is also offering reimbursements for customers who make their own accommodation arrangements, according to the utility.

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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Leak to Be Declared Local State of Emergency]]>Thu, 10 Dec 2015 01:50:08 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_Fumes_Captured_on_Infrared_Camera_1200x675_582646851676.jpg

As a step toward receiving outside government assistance in dealing with a massive natural gas leak above Porter Ranch, Los Angeles County will proclaim a local state of emergency, Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Wednesday.

"This action will ask for state and federal assistance to provide for our residents in the Porter Ranch area with additional air monitoring and help with efforts to cap the well," Antonovich said  in a written statement.
The leak from a well in the SoCalGas storage facility in Aliso Canyon north of Porter Ranch was first reported Oct. 23. Since then, residents downwind have complained of a recurring strong odor, and many have reported becoming ill with headaches, nausea and respiratory symptoms.
Efforts to stop the leak have so far proven unsuccessful. Friday, crews working for SoCalGas began the difficult and time-consuming task of drilling a "relief" well to access the leaking well and stop the release of gas.
The drilling operation is now going "24/7," but completion could still take as long as three to four months, said Jimmie Cho, vice president of operations, at a briefing Wednesday.  
Growing numbers of Porter Ranch households are taking up the Southern California Gas Company's offer to relocate them until the leak is stopped.
So far, 1,143 have been moved into temporary housing, and another 1,379 are in process, said Gillian Wright, SoCalGas vice president for customer relations.
In recent weeks, the company's response to the crisis has faced increasing scrutiny from government agencies and community groups, and has become the subject of two lawsuits, one filed by the city of Los Angeles, and another by a group of attorneys as a class action.
As part of an expanding outreach, SoCalGas announced it has launched a new website, AlisoUpdates.com, dedicated to the gas leak issue. The site includes reports on air quality readings from a network of 20 sampling stations from which samples are evaluated for certain hydrocarbons and sulfur compounds.
The company maintains it has not found levels above health risk levels set by law.
During the briefing, Wright was asked about the infrared imagery that environmental chemist Paul Rosenfeld said depicts a plume of hydrocarbons over Porter Ranch. Wright did not dispute the
description, but said analysis of air samples is more useful because it identifies the specific chemicals and their concentrations.
"Those concentrations have always been below the screening thresholds," Wright said.
The gas company also set a Dec. 18 opening date for a new storefront "community resource center" to be located in the Porter Ranch Town Center to assist residents with relocation and other issues related to the gas leak, Wright said.

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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Residents See Video of 'Hydrocarbon Plume']]>Wed, 09 Dec 2015 01:32:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/socalgas-fuga-gas-porter-ranch-telemundo-52-los-angeles.jpg

Hundreds of Porter Ranch residents gathered in Granada Hills Tuesday evening for a meeting organized by a team of lawyers suing the Southern California Gas Company over an ongoing leak from a storage facility.

The legal team filed the lawsuit last week as a class action, which means that residents of the area will have the opportunity to join the case as plaintiffs, or opt out of the class. The Los Angeles City Attorney announced Monday that the city is filing a separate suit seeking court oversight of the Gas Company's actions to stop the leak and prevent others.

Residents have complained of a noxious smell and ailments including nause and headaches. The main component of natural gas, methane, is odorless, so as a leak indicator, a strong-smelling chemical — mercaptan — is added.

Natural gas is also invisible in normal light, but does appear in infrared imagery, according to Paul Rosenfeld, an environmental chemist retained by the legal team. During the meeting, the audience was shown what was described as infrared video of the sky above Porter Ranch and told that the plume, varying in color from pink to blue, represent varying concentrations of hydrocarbons.

"The video looks like something out of a science fiction horror movie," said Brian Panish, a member of the legal team. Others include R. Rex Parris, the firm of Morgan & Morgan, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who recently moved to California.

Kennedy asserted the leak could have been prevented had the entire well been encased in concrete, as has been required since legislation in the 1970s. The leaking well dates back to a postwar oil field that was pumped out and later converted to natural gas storage.

The 8,500 foot deep well that failed is one of a hundred in the Aliso Canyon field in the hills north of Porter Ranch. The leak appears to be 500 feet below the surface, but the cause is not yet known, SoCalGas has said.

Last week before the Los Angeles City Council, SoCalGas Chief Executive Dennis Arriola apologized for the impact the leak has had. The company is offering relocation assistance to residents, and hundreds so far have accepted, though some find fault with how the program is being carried out.

Arriola said stopping the leak is the company's number one priority, but traditional measures have not proven effective.

Based on measurements of pollutants in the atmosphere, the California Air Resources Board estimated the rate of gas escape at approximately 50 tons an hour, roughly one-fourth of all the greenhouse methane gas being released from the entire state of California.

Last week, SoCalGas began drilling what is known as a "relief" well to provide access to the well that failed, said spokesman Javier Mendoza. It is a process that the company said could take several more months.

Because natural gas is flammable, work around the leak area requires extensive precautions against fire.

Wednesday afternoon, SoCalGas plans to provide an update, and allow news media to send a photographer to the work site.

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<![CDATA[City Files Suit Over Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 22:35:05 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/11-25-15-Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak.JPG

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit Monday seeking a judge's order that Southern California Gas Co. quickly stop a leak that began about seven weeks ago in the Porter Ranch area and has reportedly been making people ill.

"No community should have to endure what the residents of Porter Ranch have suffered from the Gas Company's continued failure to stop that leak," Feuer said during a City Hall news conference.

"It's not only the odor, it's the potential health consequences from the long-term exposure to chemicals like benzene," Feuer said. "It's the impact on daily lives for thousands of families and it's the enormous impact of a gargantuan quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from this location."

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who joined Feuer for the announcement, called the gas leak that began Oct. 23 at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility an "environmental disaster," and said it came up while he attended the COP21 climate change conference in Paris last week.

County health officials have gotten reports of residents suffering from nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and headaches linked to the leak and have ordered the Gas Co. to offer free relocation to residents in the area.

No evacuation order for the area has been issued.

So far 700 families have voluntarily left the area, and another 1,000 are applying for relocation services, officials said Monday.

Feuer's lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this morning, alleges the Gas Co. "did not report the leak immediately as required by law, and instead waited days to inform the proper authorities, including the Certified Unified Program Agency."

Councilman Mitch Englander called the Gas Co.'s communication failures during the first few days of the leak "unacceptable."

Englander has since worked with the company to set up a storefront location where people can obtain information, set up an advisory committee that meets weekly and put in other measures to improve communication with the public.

Those steps should have happened "from day one," Englander said.

"That's one of the most frustrating things of this entire crisis, is that people just don't know the information."

Feuer's lawsuit seeks a court order that would require the Gas Co. to quickly fix the leak, and to make sure the reasons for the leak are understood and measures are in place to prevent another one from happening.

Feuer also wants the Gas Co. to make sure that any systemic flaws at the Aliso Canyon storage facility and other facilities are addressed, and to be penalized for the greenhouse gas being released into the air.

The amount of methane coming from the leak is about 100,000 pounds an hour, according to the lawsuit.

Feuer said the lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation.

The Gas Co. is also facing a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by a number of individuals on behalf of themselves and the citizens' group Save Porter Ranch stemming from the gas leak.

The Los Angeles Superior Court negligence/nuisance suit states that the leak has caused a constant flow of gases and fluids, including methane, methyl mercaptan and aromatic hydrocarbons, that have sickened hundreds of the 30,000 residents who live in Porter Ranch.

"We've turned to the courts for fairness because Porter Ranch began experiencing toxic impacts from the air contamination shortly after the massive failure of the gas injection well on Oct. 23, 2015," said plaintiffs' attorney R. Rex Parris.

The complaint — which names the Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, as defendants — seeks unspecified damages and an injunction directing the Gas Co. to stop releasing contaminants into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Gas Co. officials have apologized for the gas leak, which has yet to be contained, and said the company will drill a relief well that will allow the utility to permanently cap the leaking tank.

The leak began in October when an injection well sustained a massive failure and blowout.
 

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<![CDATA[Natural Gas Leak from Well Described as "Catastrophe"]]>Wed, 02 Dec 2015 02:59:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Residents_Picket_City_Hall_Over_Gas_Leak_1200x675_577369155820.jpg

It will be well past the holidays and into the new year before it will be possible to stop and seal the massive gas leak that has been exposing Porter Ranch to noxious fumes, officials of SoCalGas Company disclosed Tuesday.

Testifying before the Los Angeles City Council, SoCalGas CEO Dennis Arriola outlined a strategy that will require drilling a second "relief" well nearly two miles long to intercept the leaking well near the bottom of its 8,500 foot depth. The process could take three to four months, Arriola said.  Less time consuming techniques for stopping well leaks have already been tried without success, he said. 
Also testifying at the hearing were residents criticizing the Gas Company for the leak's impact on their community. Speakers described the noxious odor as causing headaches and nausea. One mother said her 11-year-old son has suffered nosebleeds.
So far, the Gas Company has helped relocate more than 280 households, and another 500 are in process, said Gillian Wright, VP of Customer relations. 
Just as Wright had done a week ago at an earlier hearing before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Arriola apologized to the community on behalf of the company.
"No one should have to go through these disruptions and experiences," Arriola said.
Some residents and elected officials chose stronger words to describe the leak's impact.
"It's not a quality of life issue or discomfort," said City Councilman Mitch Englander at a post hearing news conference, as Arriola stood next to him.  "It's a matter of public safety, it's a matter of public health, and has to be treated as such." Englander also used the word "catastrophe."
The main component of natural gas, methane, is odorless, and so another chemical with a distinctly unpleasant smell, mercaptan, is added as an indicator.
The mercaptan is what causes the symptoms, said Cyrus Rangan, MD, with the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.
Yet to be resolved is a gas company proposal to add another chemical to neutralize the mercaptan. It is expected to be discussed Wednesday evening at a meeting of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.
The Aliso Canyon Facility stores gas in porous sandstone that decades ago held a natural supply of oil until it was pumped out. The gas is accessed with some 100 wells.
Using the other wells to draw off natural gas and reduce pressure in the system should reduce the rate of gas escaping, and thereby reduce the odor, said Arriola, who was joined by Jimmie Cho,
the company's VP for gas operations and system integrity.
Gas company officials said they still do not know for certain what triggered the leak, but have been able to narrow down its location to a section of the well 500 feet below ground level.
Leaks can often be stopped by flooding the well with brine or another fluid. But that was not effective in this case, said Steve Bohlen, head of the state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), for reasons that required a brief science lesson to explain.
Bohlen described to County Supervisors how natural gas in storage is kept pressurized. The leak allows the gas to expand rapidly, and as it does, it cools. In the case of the Aliso Canyon well, it appears the excaping methane cools enough to freeze in the pipe above the leak, thereby shielding the leak from the flooding fluid intended to seal it off.
Pressed by Supervisor Mike Antonovich as to whether DOGGR should take charge of the mission to stop the leak, Bohlen said that its role is regulatory, and that the responsibility belongs to the plant operator. 
Well experts from Louisiana and Texas have been brought in to provide expertise, SoCalGas said. 
Citing the uncertainty over the cause of the leak, and the inability to halt it quickly, some community voices are calling for the entire Aliso Canyon storage facility to be closed.
"Shut it down," chanted a group of demonstrators outside Los Angeles City Hall.
SoCalGas emphasized it will seal off and "kill" the leaking well, but resisted the notion of closing the entire facility, citing its importance to the natural gas infrastructure for Southern California, and pledging to investigate the cause of the leak to prevent a recurrence.
Asked if such a facility should be located farther from communities, Arriola said natural porous sandstone formations are not portable like manmade pipelines. 
"We can't just pick it up and move it somewhere else," said Arriola.

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<![CDATA[Gas Officials to Respond to Concerns Over Gas Leak]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 08:40:34 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/203*120/porter_ranch_gas_leak_meeting_120115.PNG

Officials with Southern California Gas Company were expected to respond to questions and concerns about a month-long gas leak that residents said they can smell in Porter Ranch.

SoCalGas officials will attend a Los Angeles City Council meeting at 10 a.m. and appear before the council to address the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility. The gas is leaking from a well about 8,500 feet underground.

Before the City Council meeting begins, Porter Ranch residents were planning to stage a rally on the steps of city hall around 9 a.m.  Residents in the Porter Ranch community have held several demonstrations and rallies citing citing health concerns over the leak since it was first discovered on Oct. 23.

SoCalGas said a daily air sampling is being conducted but they are delaying an odor mitigation system. Well pressure was also being monitored.

Some residents claimed the gas leak was making them ill and threatening their health. Some resident complained about dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds.

About 200 Porter Ranch residents have moved out of their homes temporarily and into hotels

SoCalGas told residents the leak posed no threat to residents. The LA County Public Health urged SoCalGas to expedite repairs to the leak.

Gas officials attended a meeting Nov. 25 with Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and said fixing the gas leak could take about three months to complete.

Officials previously said they could not tell how much gas had leaked from the facility since the leak began.

City officials are calling for an investigation.



Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Residents Take Gas Leak Complaints to County Supervisors]]>Wed, 25 Nov 2015 17:59:33 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/11-25-15-Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak.JPG

It could take as long as three months to stop the leak of natural gas from a storage well just north of Porter Ranch, an official with the Southern California Gas Company said Tuesday.

The already month-old leak from the Aliso Canyon facility has elicited hundreds of complaints from Porter Ranch residents complaining of noxious fumes and burning eyes.

Called to speak at a hearing before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, SoCal Gas officials began with an apology.

"We're deeply sorry for how the leak has affected the community," said Gillian Wright, vice president for customer services.

"It is our top priority to safely and expeditiously stop the leak," said Jimmie Cho, the Gas Company's vice president for gas operations and systems integrity.

Cho told supervisors that for safety reasons the challenge has to be tackled in a series of steps, and that proven techniques for stopping well leaks — including flooding the well with fluid — have not worked in this case. He said the company will try additional options before resorting to drilling a new relief well, a process he estimated could take up to three months.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl acknowledged the Gas Company's expertise, but added bluntly, "It does not seem to be working."

Cho said SoCalGas cannot say how much gas is escaping from the 8,500-foot deep well, but based on air quality measurements, the California Air Resources Board estimated a release into the air of as much as 50,000 kilograms — approximately 50 tons — an hour.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has received more than 660 complaints, said Mohsen Nazemi, deputy executive officer. The AQMD has issued the Gas Company a notice of violation.

Since last week, the Gas Company has pledged to relocate any residents who want to leave the Porter Ranch area until the leak is fixed. The company has received requests from 259 households, and so far has relocated 57, with 118 more in process, said Wright.

Natural gas, predominantly composed of the hydrocarbon methane, is odorless. It is not considered toxic, but is highly combustible above a threshold concentration, above that which has been measured in Porter Ranch, but a concern near the well, where precautions are being taken to avoid accidental ignition.

So that there is awareness of a natural gas leak, an oderant is added, primarily the chemical mercaptan, with an unpleasant, sulfurous odor that the human nose can detect in small concentrations.

"The mercaptans are what are causing the symptoms," said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, the director of the toxics epidemiology program for the LA County heath department. Rangan said he would not expect to see long-term health effects, but that symptoms would recur so long as mercaptan is in the air.

"It is hard to believe there is no health effect while everyone is suffering," said Porter Ranch resident Kyoko Hibino. Monday night dozens from the community had gathered at a rally demanding the Gas Company shut down the well immediately.

Gas Company officials proposed attempting to minimize the smell by treating the escaping gas with another chemical that would neutralize the mercaptan. However, public health officials, County supervisors, and public speakers all raised concerns about efforts to mask the indicator.

After listening to the comments at the hearing, Cho said the Gas Company decided to hold off its plan to neutralize the oderant at least until it is discussed further at a neighborhood council meeting on Dec. 2.

"The community was very clear that they would like to be a part of the process, and also they have concerns about whatever measures we would take," Cho said. "They want to be involved."

Absent from Tuesday's hearing was California's Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, known as DOGGR, which has regulatory authority over the wellfield. DOGGR oversees the steps being taken by the Gas Company, but does not direct them, said spokesman Don Drysdale.  

The head of the board of supervisors, County Mayor Mike Antonovich, ordered Tuesday's testimony be sent to DOGGR, and requested a representative appear at the Board meeting next Tuesday.  

Antonovich also requested a follow-up report from Public Health on health impacts of the leak.

The presence and strength of the odor varies with wind direction, said Matt Pakucko of the group "Save Porter Ranch," and was particularly strong during recent Santa Ana wind events, in which Porter Ranch is directly downwind from the Los Alisos facility.

The impact on Porter Ranch was the focus of the board hearing, but air quality agencies and environmental activists have raised broader concerns about the consequences for levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The estimated 50 tons an hour would amount to about one fourth of all the methane released into the air from all sources in California.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is using the adjectives "gigantic" and "monster" and "staggering" to describe the leak, and compared it to the amount of methane released into the atmosphere as a result of the energy use of three million homes, or approximately seven million cars.  

EDF estimated the gas already escaped could be as much as two percent of all the gas stored in the well, described as the largest facility in the western United States.

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<![CDATA[Frustrated Residents Rally Over Gas Leak]]>Tue, 24 Nov 2015 09:10:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/229*120/porteranch-112315.PNG

Porter Ranch residents were ready to take their concerns about a month-long gas leak that they say has been making them sick to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

"They try telling us it doesn't affect our health!" said Sharon Estrada, a Porter Ranch resident. "But yet we're breathing it. We got a phone call one day that said 'stay inside.' Why?"

Residents gathered Monday at the corner of Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street to protest the ongoing leak, shouting:

"I don't know but I been told, SoCalGas has got to go!"

Residents insisted their health was threatened by the gas leak and some were said they were willing to move because of the issue.

A faulty natural gas storage well at a Southern California Gas Company facility in Aliso Canyon has been plaguing the Porter Ranch community. Some residents said they experienced headaches, nosebleeds and nausea as a result of the leak.

"Even people that are in Topanga and Chatsworth say they also smell it!" Annie Machado, a Porter Ranch resident, said.

When residents were instructed to stay indoors the previous Friday, an "oily mist" was emitted into the air.

A SoCal Gas representative said the mist never actually left the grounds, and the warnings were just a cautionary measure.

LA County Health officials told the company to offer residents free temporary relocation options the Friday before the protest.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23, and reported five days later.

SoCal Gas has told the residents that the leak poses no threat because it is outdoors and over a mile away from homes or public areas.

"We live in a very nice house - I don't want to move out," Sue Holl, a Porter Ranch, resident at the rally, said. "But I don't know about the long term health risks for my children."

LA County Public Health ordered SoCal Gas to expedite repairs.

"We have two kids. They might have to move schools. It's really disappointing," Holl said.

The California's Air Resources Board estimated the Aliso Canyon leak accounts for a quarter of all methane emitted statewide.

The residents of Porter Ranch said that their quality of life is at stake.

"This is a big problem, and it's causing problems in our neighborhood," Brenda Richards, a Porter Ranch resident, said. "Let's get this fixed - do it now."

On Friday, Los Angeles City Council members demanded answers about the leak. Councilman Mitch Englander requested that Southern California Gas Company officials should appear before a panel to answer questions. A date had not yet been set.

The rally comes ahead of Tuesday's meeting with the Board of Supervisor over the issue with Mayor Michael D. Antonovich.

The Departments of Public Health, Fire, Public Works, Regional Planning and the Air Quality Management District were to attend the meeting, and report on the ongoing gas leak.

"Natural Gas has been leaking in the Porter Ranch area for over a month and residents continue to be subjected to powerful fumes that have the potential to cause short-term neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory issues," Antonovich said.

Any resident who needed to utilize temporary accommodations, including meals and mileage reimbursement, should visit the gas company's website.

SoCal Gas was also providing updates on its site.

Annette Arreola and Corey Arvin contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal Gas Ordered to Relocate Residents Due to Gas Leak]]>Sat, 21 Nov 2015 00:45:09 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/187*120/porter+ranch+gas+2.JPG

Almost a month after gas fumes from a faulty natural gas storage well at a Southern California Gas Company facility began sending fumes wafting through a Porter Ranch neighborhood, county health officials directed the utility to expedite repairs and offer residents free temporary relocation options, officials said Friday.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23 by crews at the gas company's Aliso Canyon storage facility near Northridge and was reported to the county five days later.

Since then, some residents have complained of an intermittent rotten-egg smell and reported symptoms such as nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and other issues, according to county health officials. The gas company has said the leak, which could take months to repair, does not pose a threat because it is outdoors and over a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than homes or public areas.

Los Angeles City Council members said Friday they want answers about the leak and approved a motion by Councilman Mitch Englander requesting Southern California Gas Company officials to appear before the panel to answer questions about the leak.

Council aides said gas company officials already have agreed to the request, but no date has been set for when they will appear. The well is a seven-inch steel line that runs to a naturally occurring storage reservoir, according to SoCal Gas.

"It is used to put natural gas into underground storage and does not run near any homes or public areas," the company stated.

Englander said that while his office gets daily updates, more needs to be done.

"This situation has lasted nearly a month now, with no clear resolution in sight," he said. "It is critical that the community be given the most current and accurate information about the leak from all the entities with jurisdiction."

Englander's motion also asks other agencies, including the Los Angeles County Health Department, the Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to appear at a future council meeting.

The Board of Supervisors also will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the gas leak, featuring reports from the Departments of public health, fire, public works, regional planning and the Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said.

The gas company also has been asked to take part in the hearing, he said. Efforts to stop up the leak are ongoing, with gas company officials recently reporting they are working to drill a relief well, which may lead to more odors or noises.

Last Friday, an oily mist was emitted into the air as crews worked to repair the leak, prompting warnings to residents to stay indoors. The mist was released about 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 13 as workers pumped a heavy brine solution into a leaking pipe in a well that's nearly 9,000 feet deep, according to company spokesman Javier Mendoza.

It was stopped about 2:45 p.m., he said. Residents were immediately notified and warned to remain indoors, the gas company reported. The all-clear was given about 4:15 p.m., Mendoza said.

The mist never left the facility grounds and the warnings were issued out of an abundance of caution, Mendoza said. At that time, the utility's John Lane told Los Angeles police that crews were making repairs that were expected to take several more days. The mist was believed to be a mixture of the brine solution, mud and residue from inside the well, Mendoza said.

The gas company previously issued an apology "for any inconvenience, annoyance or concern" the smell of gas was causing to customers in the Porter Ranch area. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, at the Antonovich's behest, on Thursday directed the gas company to expedite leak abatement and to provide free, temporary relocation to any affected residents, according to Antonovich's office.

Mendoza told City News Service that the gas company "is already working with customers to offer relocation and other forms of assistance and will continue to do so."

Since the leak was first reported, health department officials have said there was no emergency, no immediate danger to the public and no long-term effects to the public are anticipated once the problem is fixed, but those experiencing short-term "symptoms that are characteristic of low-level, intermittent nuisance odors" need to have options for relief, according to Angelo Bellomo, the department's director of environmental health.

"The health department has authority to respond to any conditions which could effect the public health," he told CNS. "That's the basis by which we issued the directive. We are hoping the gas company will comply with the directive and if we need to go further we will be reviewing our legal options to go further."

Bellomo said he wasn't in position to criticize the utility's leak repair efforts. "What I'm squarely focused on is the public health impact of this problem going on for three weeks with no definitive end in sight," he said.

People might be able to tolerate odors on a short-term basis, Bellomo said, "but after you get into weeks, what people can tolerate for a short period some may not be able tolerate (much) longer."

The odors people are smelling come from agents called mercaptans that are added to otherwise odorless but potentially explosive natural gas as a safety measure to make it identifiable, Bellomo said. While methane gas itself is not thought to be a health threat, mercaptans could lead to short-term neurological, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems if inhaled.

Asked how many people had been relocated, Bellomo said he wasn't aware of any. Mendoza said the gas company shares the health department's "urgency to get this leak stopped as quickly as safety will allow."

He directed those residents who want to avail themselves of temporary accommodations, including meals and mileage reimbursement, to visit the gas company's website.

SoCal Gas released the following statement:

We are committed to resolving the situation and alleviating community concern. We have assembled a team of experts and are working as quickly as safety will allow to stop the flow of gas and to repair the leak.

Regular updates are available on our website.
 
The leak site and surrounding community remains safe. The leak is in a localized area away from homes and businesses.  In outdoor locations such as this, natural gas quickly dissipates. We regret that the smell of the odorant in natural gas is unpleasant and that some people are sensitive to the odor. Although natural gas is not considered to be toxic or a hazardous air pollutant, it smells bad and the odor can be bothersome to some.  We apologize for any discomfort odors may be causing residents.
 
For residents in neighboring communities who might be affected by the odor, SoCalGas is providing free, temporary housing accommodations, including locations that can accommodate residents with special needs. And for residents with pets, we have arranged pet-friendly locations. If you are interested in receiving temporary housing accommodations, please contact us at 404-497-6808.
 
SoCalGas thanks our customers and the communities we serve for their cooperation, patience and understanding.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[NewsConference EXTRA Porter Ranch Too Close for Comfort]]>Sun, 24 Jan 2016 17:07:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/TLA_NCXTRA_BRAD_SHERMAN_012316_1200x675_607223363649.jpgCongressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman Sherman talks about the gas leak in Porter Ranch. He explains to NBC4's Conan Nolan why he is skeptical about what is being done to stop the leak. Interestingly enough, the congressman lives in Porter Ranch. Plus, he talks about the recent release of the US prisoners from Iran and his support of Hillary Clinton. ]]><![CDATA[Regulators Vote to Shut Down Porter Ranch Gas Well]]>Sat, 23 Jan 2016 20:33:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

Southern California air regulators Saturday approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing a three-month-old leak of natural gas from a Porter Ranch-area storage facility that has forced evacuations and raised health concerns.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board voted 4-1 in favor of the order, which comes after four separate meetings in which angry residents voiced concerns to regulators and Southern California Gas Company officials about the feared health effects from the leak at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon storage facility.

Residents of roughly 2,500 area homes have been relocated by SoCalGas, with about 1,500 other households awaiting relocation, according to the utility.

Students at two schools in the area have also been moved to other campuses away from the leak.

The Gas Co. first reported the leaking well Oct. 23.

Today's order compels SoCalGas to:

  • Permanently shut down and seal the well and not inject gas into or withdraw gas from it in the future once the leak has stopped;
  • Fund an independent health study to assess any potential health effects
    on residents;
  • Fund continuous air monitoring to be conducted by SCAQMD and/or a
    contractor under the agency's supervision;
  • Develop and implement an enhanced leak detection and reporting program;
  • Monitor the leaking well continuously with an infrared camera until 30
    days after the leak has stopped;
  • Provide SCAQMD with data on the amount of gas injected and withdrawn
    from the facility and information to calculate the total amount of methane
    leaked;
  • Submit a plan to notify SCAQMD for notifying government agencies and
    the public of any reportable releases of air emissions, as defined in the plan;
  • Report all odor complaints to SoCalGas since Oct. 23 and on an ongoing
    basis to SCAQMD;
  • Not use any odor suppressants or neutralizers in an attempt to reduce
    odors from the leak, unless approved by SCAQMD.

The order extends through Jan. 31, 2017, unless SoCalGas completes all requirements sooner.

The board will hold a follow-up hearing to review the status of the order on Feb. 20 at a location to be determined in the San Fernando Valley.

Gas Co. officials had originally planned as part of the enforcement order to implement a system of capturing and incinerating some of the gas leaking That plan was ultimately scrapped over fears that such a burn-off might spark a catastrophic explosion.

Calling today's vote "better late than never," LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said government regulators have still "failed the residents of Porter Ranch and the state by neglecting to inspect, require or implementadequate safety measures on these antiquated wells."

"The Gas Company must take immediate action to mitigate the catastrophic health impacts and disastrous environmental damage that their negligence and lack of planning has inflicted on the Porter Ranch community," Antonovich said.

SoCalGas Co. officials have said that they expect to stop the leak by late February, if not sooner, as work on their relief well project is proceeding ahead of schedule. The relief well drilling began Dec. 4 and is expected to reach the bottom of the well at a depth of about 8,500 feet below the surface next month, according to Jimmy Cho, the Gas Co.'s chief engineer.

"We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental (impact), and supporting the community,'' he said. "Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the updated plan we have submitted to state regulators."

Los Angeles County health officials announced last week they were expanding their monitoring of the gas leak, noting that hundreds of residents have reported health problems such as nausea, headaches and nose bleeds due to additives in the natural gas. They insisted, however, that levels of the carcinogen benzene in the area are still too low to be considered a long-term health risk.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Air Regulators Reach Decision on Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Sat, 23 Jan 2016 18:19:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

Southland air regulators Saturday approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing the three-month-old leak of natural gas from a Porter Ranch-area storage facility.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board voted 4-1 in favor of the order, which comes after four separate meetings in which angry residents voiced concerns to regulators and Southern California Gas Company officials about the feared health effects from the leak at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon storage facility.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board has heard multiple complaints from frustrated residents over the leak first detected late October in Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

Two meetings were held in Granada Hills earlier this month. The board met again Wednesday in San Dimas, but the panel delayed any action after elected officials said meetings should be held closer to the Porter Ranch area so residents can attend.

Gas Co. officials had originally planned as part of the enforcement order to implement a system of capturing and incinerating some of the gas leaking from the Aliso Canyon storage facility. That plan was ultimately scrapped over fears that such a burn-off might spark a catastrophic explosion.

Although that proposal is now moot, AQMD executive officer Barry Wallerstein said the proposed order "still contains many important requirements to minimize leaking gas, monitor emissions and help prevent a similar incident in the future.''

According to AQMD, the proposed order would require SoCalGas to permanently shut down the leaking well, fund an independent health study to assess effects to residents, develop an enhanced leak-detection system for all wells at the facility, report all odor complaints made to the company since Oct. 23 and stop any further injection of natural gas into the storage facility while maximizing withdrawals.

A relief well that the Southern California Gas Company began drilling in early December should reach the bottom of the 8,500-foot-deep well by late February or sooner, when it will be permanently taken out of service, according to the company.

Los Angeles County health officials announced this week they were expanding their monitoring of the gas leak, noting that hundreds of residents have reported health problems such as nausea, headaches and nosebleeds due to additives in the natural gas. They insisted, however, that levels of the carcinogen benzene in the area are still too low to be considered a long-term health risk, county public health officials said.

Since the leak was detected, more than 2,500 households and two schools have been relocated, according to SoCalGas.

City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Residents Fear They'll Have to Pay for Gas Leak]]>Fri, 22 Jan 2016 00:47:57 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/State_Lawmakers_Call_For_Answers_in_Porter_Ranch_1200x675_606370371783.jpgHundreds of angry Porter Ranch homeowners had one lingering question -- why has this leak been allowed to happen? Robert Kovacik reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.]]><![CDATA[Benzene Becomes Focus of Gas Leak Air Sampling]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:51:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

Amid questions about long-term exposure levels to potentially dangerous chemicals, public health officials Wednesday called for more sampling and testing of air in Porter Ranch near a leaking gas storage well.

Since the leak was first reported in October, hundreds of residents have complained of a noxious odor, and also of health symptoms including headaches, nausea, burning eyes, and respiratory discomfort.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has repeatedly offered assurances that such symptoms are short-term phenomena tied directly to nontoxic odorants in the gas, and that there is no reason to expect long-term, chronic health effects.

However, official say those conclusions are based on sampling done to determine "instantaneous" chemical levels, and do not provide as accurate a picture of average concentrations as do samples taken over a 12 to 24 hour period.

"We are recommending what we call an expanded air monitoring program," said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, interim health officer.

The concern is not so much the odorless methane that is the primary constituent of natural gas, nor even the odorants that are placed in the gas as indicators, but contaminants such as benzene, a known carcinogen which can also cause immediate acute symptoms after short term exposure at concentrations above a threshold level.
The state of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment sets limits for exposure both short-term and long term.
The short-term limit for benzene is 8 parts per billion, or "ppb." The highest benzene level found outside the storage facility was below the limit at 5.55 ppb, according to Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection. Consequently, officials see no short-term risk from released benzene. Bellomo said levels on-site were measured above 20 ppb, but workers have been shielded by required protective gear.
Long-term health consequences can result from exposure to much lower levels over a longer period of time. The California threshold for long-term benzene exposure is one ppb.
"One part per billion for months or years, then you are also becoming at risk for chronic long term health effects," Bellomo said.
Based on aggregating "instantaneous" readings, Public Health estimates the average community exposure at half the limit, a level Bellomo said is routinely observed as the ambient level throughout the county. But officials say the better way to make that evaluation is to take samples over a longer period of time, 12 to 24 hours, and that method of testing is now underway.
"We can't really say what the average level of community exposure is," said Bellomo, expressing confidence the longer term monitoring project would provide that answer.
The leaking well is one of 115 in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility that is the Gas Company's largest, and deemed essential to its distribution network. To stop the leak, SoCalGas crews are drilling a "relief" well nearly 9,000 feet to intercept and "kill" the leaking well.
Monday, the Gas Company estimated that work would be completed at the end of next month.
SoCalGas is responsible for the air sampling and for covering the cost of the analysis by a certified laboratory. The work is done under the direction of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Some integrated 24-hour sampling began in December, according to SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.
On its AlisoUpdates website, SoCalGas noted that the SCAQMD's preliminary report on the integrated sampling data shows no evidence of long term health consequences.
Interim public health director Gunzenhauser said he hopes that by next week his department will begin seeing the longer term data it seeks.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Outrage Builds in Porter Ranch Over Gas Leak]]>Sat, 12 Dec 2015 21:37:31 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/protest-porter-121215.JPG

The Porter Ranch gas leak was in its seventh week, and thousands of residents have been relocated, leading to a large group rallying for the issue to be taken care of Saturday.

Frustrated residents gathered at the site of a gas leak in Porter Ranch Saturday to rally for the issue to be taken care as the gas leak enters its seventh week.

"What do we want? Shut it down! When do we want it? Now!" residents shouted at the intersection of Tampa Avenue and Sesnon Boulevard - "ground zero" for the leak.

On day 51, residents wore masks at a rally as they demanded that SoCal Gas shut down the site.

Protesters said that they suffered severe health issues - including irritated throats, out-of-control coughs, and watering eyes.

A resident brought a family pet and said the dog's eyes were red and irritated due to the leak.

"Her eyes have gotten pinker," Christine Galanti said of her chocolate Labrador.

She said the dog's has become lethargic since the gas leak starter.

Galanti and her husband Craig live two blocks from the leak site, and they have joined more than a thousand Porter Ranch residents waiting to temporarily move out.

The estimated time it will take SoCal Gas to stop the leak was three to four months.

The leak was discovered seven weeks ago by gas crews at a well in the Aliso Canyon storage facility.

Another resident, Jay Corson, was among more than a thousand residents who have since relocated.

"I have not been in my house for three weeks," Corson said.

Others said the odor stretched beyond Porter Ranch.

"We have friends in Northridge, friends in Granada Hills - everybody smells it," Andrew Krowne, a Chatsworth resident, said.

Infrared imaging was released earlier in the week by an environmental chemist.
It shows a plume of hydrocarbons flowing over Porter Ranch

SoCal Gas maintained that natural gas is not toxic and leaking levels are too low for any long term health concerns.

"We've heard no definitive studies on gas exposure for long periods," Galanti said. 



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[$5M in Loans Available for Businesses Near Gas Leak]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 19:11:18 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

A nonprofit organization is making $5 million in loans and other financial assistance available to businesses affected by the ongoing natural gas leak near Porter Ranch and resulting exodus of residents, Councilman Mitch Englander said.

The Valley Economic Development Center will offer loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to businesses that have lost revenue due to the gas leak at the nearby Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility and need help paying their bills. The facility's operator, Southern California Gas Co., estimates it may take until the end of February or March to fix the leak, which was discovered on Oct. 23.

Since that time, thousands of families have relocated out of the area. Englander said some businesses have been able to rely on reserves to help them through the first month or two, "but it's just now catching up with them."

"The bills are coming, but the customers aren't," he said.

The nonprofit presented a $35,000 check today to one affected business, Starter Set Preschool and Child Development Center, which lost 17 of its students during the gas leak, according to VEDC Director of Marketing Lisa Winkle.

"We're there to help small businesses in the area that have been impacted by this disaster," Winkle said.

The $5 million being offered includes micro-loans, which are immediately available, as well as small business loans between $50,000 and $250,000, which take longer to give out.

VEDC was formed in 1976 and has offered financial assistance to small businesses amid various disasters, including the 1994 Northridge earthquake.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Protesters Demand Closure of Porter Ranch Gas Facility]]>Sun, 10 Jan 2016 00:34:14 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/161*120/porter+ranch+protesters.JPG

Hundreds of protesters and Porter Ranch residents rallied at Granada Hills Charter High School Saturday, calling for the permanent closure of a gas storage facility ahead of a hearing held by air quality regulators.

The protesters packed a meeting at the school held by the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board to address concerns over a massive gas leak in the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage complex.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board made no decision Saturday.

The leak, which began in October, has prompted the relocation of thousands of households from the area and has led to complaints of headaches, nausea and other ailments.

According to one estimate, more than 78,000 metric tons of methane have leaked from the storage well. That's equivalent to roughly 745 million gallons of gasoline burned, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

At Saturday's hearing, the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board considered a proposed order, which would require the gas company to minimize natural gas leaking from the well, and capture and dispose of leaking gas.

Frustrated residents gathered outside the meeting, holding signs that read, "Shut it down!" and requesting immediate action from local officials.

"It's a danger. It's been affecting our health," said one attendant. "We've had to be relocated. We've basically been chased out of our community because the air has become toxic."

Under the order, SoCal gas would begin installing equipment to capture and incinerate natural gas leaking from its well in the Porter Ranch area.

"The captured odorized natural gas will be combusted by thermal oxidizers that will safely burn the gas in an enclosed, ceramic-insulated chamber," Kristine Lloyd, a project manager with the Gas Co., said. It is still unknown when the process will begin.

Lloyd said the system is being designed to be installed in two phases, and could ultimately incinerate up to 20 million standard cubic feet per day or filter odorant out of 14 million cubic feet per day.

The proposed abatement order would also require SoCalGas to continuously monitor the well, submit to the AQMD a plan for an enhanced leak-detection and well-inspection program, and commit to funding a health study on the impacts of exposure to the leaking gas.

SoCalGas is in the process of digging relief wells that are expected to allow the company to cap the leak. That process, however, is not expected to be completed until February or March.

AQMD officials noted that the proposed abatement order does require the extraction of gas from the well, and a ban on injecting any more into the well.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in the Porter Ranch area due to the continuing leak. The order came two days after Brown met with a handful of residents in the Porter Ranch area and toured the storage facility and a relief well.

Air quality officials said the hearing could take all day, or several days.

City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Marin Austin/KNBC
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<![CDATA[Students Relocated Due to Gas Leak Return to Class]]>Tue, 12 Jan 2016 16:32:18 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/220*120/porter_ranch_students_return_011216.PNG

Students from a pair of Porter Ranch-area schools returned to class Tuesday, but not at the campuses they're used to, thanks to a continuing gas leak that has been causing illnesses and prompting residents to temporarily move out of the area.

On Dec. 17, the LAUSD board declared an emergency at Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School in response to the leak from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The board decided to temporarily move students to alternate locations. Porter Ranch Community School is located about two miles from the Aliso Canyon facility, which has been leaking natural gas since late October.

Castlebay Lane Charter school is about one mile from the site. The roughly 1,100 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at Porter Ranch Community School returned to class at 8:25 a.m. on the campus of Northridge Middle School. The 770 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Castlebay resumed school at 8:30 a.m. at Sunny Brae Elementary School in Winnetka.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich said the contents of the kids' original classrooms had been moved to the new locations.

"They had their own desk ... the security that they were still in their class," Antonovich said, praising LAUSD for "putting the children first, not last."

Antonovich said Southern California Gas Co. will reimburse the LAUSD's costs associated with the move. The bulk of LAUSD students returned to class Monday, but students at the Porter Ranch schools had an extra day to prepare.

Porter Ranch Community School principal Mary Melvin said that absences had been increasing at the campus.

"Toward the end we had right around 200 students absent, so it's quite a few -- many because of the relocation, some because of the side effects of the (gas), depending on what families were comfortable with," she said. "But it's wonderful to have them all back."

The two schools "have been significantly disrupted by the gas leak," according to a staff report presented to the LAUSD board last month.

"Absenteeism and visits to the health offices at each of these schools has significantly increased.

"Furthermore, since the leak was first reported, families are opting out of attending school and are instead choosing independent study for their children, while others have transferred to a different school. Additional requests for independent study programs and school transfers continue."

The students are expected to remain at the relocated classrooms until the end of the school year. Antonovich and City Attorney Mike Feuer have raised concerns about potential price-gouging by landlords taking advantage of Porter Ranch families looking for temporary housing away from the gas leak. The county's director of Consumer Affairs said the agency hadn't received any formal complaints yet but was working with Feuer to investigate.

"This office is prepared to prosecute," Brian Stiger said.



Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Lawmakers Announce Plan on Porter Ranch Gas Leak]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 19:19:50 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Thousands_of_Students_Forced_to_Switch_Schools_After_Porter_Ranch_Gas_Leak_1200x675_587962947588.jpg

Lawmakers on Monday announced a legislative package in response to a methane gas leak that has forced thousands of people from their homes in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles.

A group of four state senators met outside Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage facility, where the leak was detected late October, calling for a moratorium of on any new gas injections.

The lawmakers said an aggressive plan beyond the emergency declaration made by Gov. Jerry Brown last week was needed, and referred to the gas leak as a local, national and international disaster.

Sen. Fran Pavley, who represents the area, said more testing at well sites and better industry regulations are the best ways to prevent another disaster.

"This is a challenge. It is a tragedy and I know we can do better," Pavley said.

Sen. Ben Allen said the leak continued to be detrimental to the local and state environment.

"At its peak this was emitting the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 7 million automobiles," Allen said.

The leak has forced thousands of households from the area and has led to complaints of headaches, nausea and other ailments.

According to one estimate, more than 78,000 metric tons of methane have leaked from the storage well. That's equivalent to roughly 745 million gallons of gasoline burned, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

At a hearing on Saturday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board considered a proposed order that would require the Southern California Gas Co. to minimize natural gas leaking from the well and to capture and dispose of leaking gas.

Hundreds of frustrated residents packed the meeting to express their outrage, calling for the permanent closure of Aliso Canyon. Residents have also said they are not being provided with enough information from SoCal Gas in the wake of the leak, including potential health hazards and a realistic timeline for when it can be stopped.

Southern California Gas Co. 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.

In the meantime, two schools have been relocated. More than 1,000 students from Porter Ranch will not head back to school on Monday, as is planned for the majority of Los Angeles Unified School District.

Students are expected to return to school on Tuesday at different campuses.

Lawmakers hope their efforts will address fears and get life back to normal for Porter Ranch residents.

"It is our intent in the legislature to address these concerns to find solutions so we build our more sustainable energy grid in the safest way possible," Sen. Bob Huff said.

SoCalGas did not comment on what a moratorium would do for its operations and added it's focused on capping the leaking well.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal Utility Understated Chemical Levels: Report]]>Fri, 15 Jan 2016 13:25:42 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

The utility whose leaking natural gas well has driven thousands of Los Angeles residents from their homes acknowledged that it understated the number of times airborne levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have spiked during the crisis.

Southern California Gas Co. had been saying on its website and in emails to The Associated Press that just two air samples over the past three months showed elevated concentrations of the compound. But after the AP inquired about discrepancies in the data, SoCalGas admitted 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. The utility continued to assert that the leak has posed no long-term risk to the public.

Public health officials have likewise said they do not expect any long-term health problems. But some outside experts insist the data is too thin to say that with any certainty. For one thing, it is unclear whether the benzene fumes persisted long enough to exceed state exposure limits.

"I have not seen anything convincing that it's been proven to be safe," said Seth Shonkoff, the executive director of an independent energy science and policy institute and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. "I'm not going on record as saying this is absolutely an unsafe situation; I'm saying there are a number of red flags."

The leak at the biggest natural gas storage facility west of the Mississippi River was reported Oct. 23. The cause is unknown, but the leak has spewed huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and occasionally blanketed neighborhoods about a mile away with a sickening rotten-egg odor. The leak is in the San Fernando Valley about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

SoCalGas has run up more than $50 million in costs so far in trying to contain the leak and relocate about 4,500 families. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared an emergency, and some environmentalists are calling it the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. 

Health officials and SoCalGas have said most of the gas has dissipated, though the odor from the chemical additive that makes the methane detectable is blamed for nausea, headaches and nosebleeds.

Natural gas also contains smaller amounts of other compounds, such as benzene, that cause cancer as well as anemia and other blood disorders.

In the Los Angeles area, benzene is normally present at minuscule levels of 0.1 to 0.5 parts per billion, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. But SoCalGas has been saying on its website that the typical background level is 2 parts per billion.

Apparently relying on that standard, SoCalGas originally said that benzene was found in amounts slightly higher than background levels in just two samples, both on Nov. 10. The suspect readings were 5.6 parts per billion in one gated development about a mile from the well and 3.7 parts per billion in the Porter Ranch Estates neighborhood of 1,100 homes.

However, a more detailed look at the data by the AP and outside experts showed at least 10 other instances over seven days in November when benzene exceeded 1 part per billion.

In its update Thursday, SoCalGas said that nearly 1,200 tests had found 14 instances where benzene exceeded 1 part per billion, including one time in December.

The World Health Organization and U.S. government classify benzene as an undisputed cause of leukemia and other cancers. "No safe level of exposure can be recommended," according to WHO.

California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in 2014 set a series of limits for the amount of benzene people could be exposed to without risking anemia and other noncancerous disorders.

Those limits are 8 parts per billion for a one-time exposure, 1 part per billion for repeated exposures for eight hours at a stretch, and 1 part per billion for several years or a lifetime.

Michael Jerrett, chairman of the environmental health department at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that because of the limited testing done by SoCalGas early on, it is impossible to know for sure whether there was repeated exposure in parts of the community. He said he believes there is a "high probability" the eight-hour standard was violated.

One problem with the testing is that it was done over very short periods that can indicate spikes but can't provide meaningful data on long-term exposure.

Dr. Cyrus Rangan, a medical toxicologist from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said it is unlikely state safety levels were exceeded because spot testing didn't turn up a larger, more consistent pattern of high readings.

"You can't take a 10-minute sample that's 5.6 parts per billion and make any long-term risk assessment," Rangan said. "If that was sustained over several months in a row, I'd be concerned about that, but we know that's not happening."

More comprehensive testing is underway, though the amount of gas being released has dropped about 60 percent as pressure in the well drops.

Since Dec. 21, the air district has been taking samples around the clock, and all but one showed benzene at 0.1 parts per billion, said spokesman Sam Atwood. One sample was 0.2 parts per billion.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mayor Says Accountability Needed for Gas Leak]]>Fri, 15 Jan 2016 21:02:11 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gas-Leak-AP_843940511978.jpg

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.



Photo Credit: Javier Mendoza/SoCalGas via AP
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<![CDATA[Gas Leak Concerns Persist at Second AQMD Meeting]]>Sat, 16 Jan 2016 23:28:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter_Ranch_Residents_Rally_Demanding_Facility_Closure_1200x675_599195715957.jpg

Hundreds of Porter Ranch residents took their concerns over a monthslong gas leak that has stoked anxiety over the impact on their health at a second meeting with air quality regulators on Saturday.

The meeting was a continuation of a hearing from Jan. 9 with South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) board members, with many residents calling for a permanent closure of a gas storage facility.

The massive gas leak in the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage complex, adjacent to Porter Ranch, prompted the relocation of thousands of households near the area. Many have complained of headaches, nausea and other ailments since the gas leak began in October.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board made no decision Saturday regarding what steps would be taken next.

The board was expected to vote the coming Wednesday.

Several people rallied outside Granada Hills Charter High School, where Saturday's meeting was held, calling for the permanent closure of Aliso Canyon.

The hearing comes just as Los Angeles County Supervisor expressed interest Friday in halting the process of a proposed 314-unit housing development.

"Until a thorough investigation can take place regarding the cause of the leak and the precautions and safeguards necessary to prevent a failure of this magnitude again, it is not appropriate to build more residential development in close proximity to Aliso Canyon," Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a press release.

On Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti demanded accountability for the leak, describing it as "a disaster on the scale fo what we saw with Deepwater Horizon," referencing the 2010 BP spill that sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

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 2,00 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.

]]>
<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Leak Affecting Pets: Vet]]>Mon, 18 Jan 2016 22:06:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/176*120/01.18.16_Porter-Ranch-Pets.JPG

It's not just people who have unexplained symptoms since gas began escaping from a leaky well in Aliso Canyon, some say it's their pets too.

One veterinarian in Porter Ranch says hundreds of pets have experienced odd ailments seen since the gas leak began. He says the animals have nosebleeds, rashes and respiratory problems and no one knows what the long term affects will be.

Veterinarian Dr. David Smith of Northridge Veterinary Center says he's seen hundreds of animals with ailments that he believes are related to the gas leak.

"Almost every day we are seeing one or two cases,” Smith says. "We are also seeing a lot of gastrointestinal problems, vomiting, pancreatitis."

Most cases he sees are not life-threatening, but just as in humans, the symptoms may not be the same everyday.

"We are seeing nosebleeds. Cats and dogs and conjunctivitis. A lot of really red, inflamed eyes."

Dr. Smith says there is no way to know the long term risk from the leak that has released a reported 84,000 metric tons of methane and 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since it started in October.

The leak has forced thousands of families to move, with many have been separated from their pets because their temporary lodging won’t accept them.

"(We) are also seeing a lot of anxiety issues with animals because of the disruption in their lives,” Smith says.

Dr. Smith says it's best to leave pets indoors if at all possible or relocate them if you can.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Gas Leak Could Be Capped Next Month]]>Tue, 19 Jan 2016 08:40:12 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

A natural gas leak that has spewed methane into the atmosphere for months in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles will be capped by late February, if not sooner, according to the Southern California Gas Company.

The utility said in a statement Monday a relief well project is moving along more quickly than expected.

"Our team of experts has been working around the clock since we started relief well operations in early December and we're pleased with the progress we've made thus far," said Jimmie Cho, senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity for SoCalGas, in a written statement.

Relief well drilling began in early December as part of efforts to plug a gas well that began leaking at the Aliso Canyon facility Oct. 26. The leak has prompted the relocation of schools and more than 2,000 households from the neighborhood in northwest Los Angeles.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the Porter Ranch area, where residents have complained of headaches, nausea and other symptoms they believe are a result of massive gas plumes that have floated into their neighborhoods.

"Our top priority remains the safety of those working on the site and of the nearby community. We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental impact, and supporting the community. Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the plan we have submitted to state regulators," Cho said in the statement.

The gas leak has drawn the ire of residents, community activists, environmental groups and state and local officials.

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.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA['Shut It Down': Lawmaker Tours Gas Leak Site]]>Tue, 19 Jan 2016 19:59:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

A San Fernando Valley lawmaker and Los Angeles council member toured the site of the natural gas leak Tuesday at the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility in Porter Ranch.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, was accompanied by L.A. city Councilman Mitch Englander on the tour. The Gas Co. was not allowing reporters on the tour, but Sherman said photos would be provided by his office.

"This is a major catastrophe," said Englander. "This is beyond a nuisance and an inconvenience. This a  community, economic and environmental disaster."

SoCalGas President Dennis Arriola and SoCalGas Chief Engineer Jimmy Cho are scheduled to provide Sherman and his staff updates on leak situation and the efforts to plug it.

n an interview with KNX before the tour, Sherman made no effort to conceal doubts that the storage facility can be made safe. He said his skepticism stemmed in part from the fact many of the pipes being used are from the 1950s and from the absence of surface safety valves, which he said had been removed in 1979 and never replaced.

"You couldn't get replacement parts for it," Sherman said. "That was a mistake.

"We have a lot to do to plug this leak and a lot to do before they're allowed to put any more natural gas in that facility. We should shut it down. They should be pulling as out of this facility as quickly as possible."

After the tour, Sherman was asked about conditions at the site.

"You can hear the gas escaping," said Sherman. "It sounds like a hell of a lot of gas escaping."

A State Assembly plans to conduct a committee hearing about the leak Thursday in Porter Ranch, Sherman said.

Southern California Gas Co. first reported the leaking well in October, and since then an estimated 77 million kilograms of methane have been released. Northwest San Fernando Valley communities near the site have been dealing with foul odors and nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and other short-term ailments. Pets have also displayed unusual behaviors and such ailments as nosebleeds.

The Gas Co. announced Monday that it expects to stop the leak by late February, if not sooner, as work on its relief well project is proceeding ahead of schedule. The relief well drilling began Dec. 4 and is expected to reach the bottom of the well at a depth of about 8,500 feet below the surface next month, according to Jimmie Cho, the engineering head.

The Gas. Co. also said it has abandoned a plan to capture and burn the leaking natural gas. The announcement came just two days after the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that the company’s proposal to burn the gas would be placed on hold because of the risk of a catastrophic explosion.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Porter Ranch Gas Leak FAQ]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 08:28:49 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_501253542575.jpg

Natural gas has been spewing from a ruptured well at SoCal Gas' Aliso Canyon Storage Facility near Porter Ranch, leading to thousands of residents relocating from the area, with some complaining of health problems. Two schools in Porter Ranch have closed, with students moved to alternate campuses.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

When will the gas leak be stopped?
A relief well that the Southern California Gas Company began drilling in early December should reach the bottom of the 8,500-foot-deep well by late February or sooner, when it will be permanently taken out of service, according to the company. "We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental impact, and supporting the community," said Jimmie Cho, the engineering head. "Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the updated plan we have submitted to state regulators." Gas company attorney Robert Wyman of the firm Latham & Watkins LLP stated that the leak was "being addressed as safely and expeditiously as possible. This is SoCalGas's highest priority." Earlier estimates put the date sometime in March. Some are skeptical of the new timeline. The gas company also said it has abandoned a plan to capture and burn the leaking natural gas. The announcement came just two days after the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that the company's proposal to burn the gas would be placed on hold because of the risk of a catastrophic explosion.

 What's being emitted from the well?
An estimated 77 million kilograms of methane have been flowing over Porter Ranch since Southern California Gas Company discovered the leak on Oct. 23. The leak is producing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.3 million cars.

How did it start?
No official cause has been given.

What's the health threat?
A study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District estimates that six months of exposure to benzene from the gas leak poses to Porter Ranch residents an increased cancer risk of up to 2 in a million, a level that is at or below benzene risk throughout the region, according to the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles County health officials have cautioned that levels of chemicals tracked so far in Porter Ranch are not believed to be associated with long-term health problems.

What are residents doing to mitigate the effects?
More than 2,800 households have moved to motels and officials have moved students from two schools into other campuses out of the area.

What is the Aliso Canyon storage field?
The Aliso Canyon storage field, the largest facility of its kind west of the Mississippi River, is "the largest of four natural gas storage fields that SoCalGas operates in Southern California" and provides fuel to "homes, manufacturers, hospitals, universities, small businesses and all customers who rely on a ready supply of energy from natural gas." Many of the pipes being used are from the 1950s and from the absence of surface safety valves, which had been removed in 1979 and never replaced.

How much money has the effort to plug the leak cost?
By the end of December the Southern California Gas Company had spent some $50 million in its efforts to stop the leak and mitigate its effects and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over its emissions.

How are lawmakers responding?
A group of state legislators unveiled a package of proposed legislation calling for an immediate moratorium on injecting any more gas into the well and calling for stepped-up inspections of aging wells statewide. Pavley and other legislators noted that while seven state agencies are involved in monitoring or investigating the leak, there is no single agency with responsibility for oversight of such facilities. Such oversight is called for in one of the bills the legislators plan to introduce. The bill also would require a utility responsible for environmental damage to bear the full cost of remediation without passing the bill to ratepayers. The senators also plan to introduce a bill that would ban new injections of gas into Aliso Canyon and bar the use of aging wells at the site until they can be inspected to determine they do not pose any public safety risk.

How big is this leak in comparison with other major leaks?
The ongoing gas leak is one of the biggest environmental disasters in the United States since the 2010 BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Los Angeles Eric Garcetti described the leak as a "disaster on the scale of what we saw with Deepwater Horizon."

How do I contact SoCal Gas?
The company has a contact page here



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[GRAPHIC: Porter Ranch Gas Leak Relief Well Operation]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 15:44:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/220*120/01-20-2016-socalgas-relief-well-gas-leak-porter-ranch.JPG

Natural gas has been spewing from a ruptured well at SoCal Gas' Aliso Canyon Storage Facility near Porter Ranch, leading to thousands of residents relocating from the area, with some complaining of health problems.

A relief well that the Southern California Gas Company began drilling in early December should reach the bottom of the 8,500-foot-deep well by late February or sooner, when it will be permanently taken out of service, according to the company.

Below, a look at the relief well operation. Click on the graphic for a larger view.



Photo Credit: SoCalGasCo
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<![CDATA[Air Quality Regulators Conduct Hearing on Gas Leak]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 21:25:26 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Porter-Ranch-AP_51068591634.jpg

As demonstrators chanted, "Shut it down," Southland air-quality regulators tried again Wednesday to craft a wide-ranging enforcement order aimed at minimizing the impact of the leak from a natural gas storage well near Porter Ranch.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board concluded it needs at least one more meeting, scheduling another session for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in Woodland Hills.

No longer on the table is a proposal to capture and burn-off at least a portion of the leaking gas.

Amid safety concerns, SoCalGas announced Monday it was scrapping the plan. Some AQMD officials questioned the risk of a catastrophic explosion that might result from the incineration proposal.

"Our proposed order would have required SoCalGas to capture and dispose of a portion of leaking gas only if SoCalGas along with federal, state and local regulatory agencies deemed it safe to do so," according to AQMD executive officer Barry Wallerstein. "While that provision is now moot, the
order still contains many important requirements to minimize leaking gas, monitor emissions and help prevent a similar incident in the future."

According to AQMD, the proposed order would, among other issues, require SoCalGas to permanently shut down the leaking well, fund an independent health study to assess effects to residents, develop an enhanced leak-detection system for all wells at the facility, report all odor complaints made to the company since Oct. 23 and stop any further injection of natural gas into the
storage facility while maximizing withdrawals.

Residents of roughly 2,500 homes have been relocated out of the Porter Ranch area by SoCalGas, with about 1,500 other households awaiting relocation, according to the utility.

Students at two schools in the area have also been moved to other campuses away from the leak.

Southern California Gas Co. first reported the leaking well Oct. 23, and since then an estimated 77 million kilograms of methane have been released.

Communities near the site have been dealing with foul odors and nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and other short-term ailments. Pets have also displayed unusual behaviors and such ailments as nosebleeds.

The Gas Co. announced Monday that it expects to stop the leak by late February, if not sooner, as work on its relief well project is proceeding ahead of schedule.

The relief well drilling began Dec. 4 and is expected to reach the bottom of the well at a depth of about 8,500 feet below the surface next month, according to Jimmy Cho, the Gas Co.'s chief engineer.

"We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental (impact), and supporting the community," he said. "Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the updated plan we have submitted to state regulators."

City News Service contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: AP
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