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.
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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.