SoCalGas Appeals Court's Extension of Resident Relocation Order

Southern California Gas Co. has challenged a judge's order giving residents another three weeks to stay in short-term housing after a natural gas leak was capped in Porter Ranch

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 AP - Associated Press
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