Porter Ranch Residents See Infrared Video of ‘Hydrocarbon Plume'

Hundreds of Porter Ranch's gas leak-weary residents gathered to consider legal options.

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.


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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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