Monday, June 24, 2024

A Gas Leak Is Capped, but Neighbors Are Wary


The Porter Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles sits below the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

LOS ANGELES — With a mix of pride and great relief, state officials here announced on Thursday that the leaking natural gas well near the Porter Ranch neighborhood — which over the last four months had pumped thousands of tons of methane and other chemicals into the atmosphere, sickening residents and prompting more than 6,000 households to flee — had finally been capped permanently.

Testing showed that air quality had returned to normal, according to state officials. But for some angry residents of the wealthy planned community at the northern edge of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, nothing short of the gas field’s closing will be enough.

Officials say they have capped the well releasing methane and other chemicals into the atmosphere around the site.

“We have two words in response to today’s announcement: Flint, Michigan,” said Matt Pakucko, one of the founders of the group Save Porter Ranch, which is planning a rally on Friday in support of closing the gas field. “Those people were told by these kinds of officials, ‘The water is fine. Drink it.’ People are still getting sick here.”

Families who relocated to hotels or other short-term housing to escape the noxious fumes will have eight days to return home, before the gas company stops reimbursing them.

Officials for the Southern California Gas Company estimated that it had already spent up to $300 million since the blowout, much of it on attempts to plug the leak and paying for residents’ housing. That figure does not include legal costs from the dozens of lawsuits that have been filed against the company or any penalties the government orders it to pay.

At a news conference on Thursday, state and local officials announced measures that would be taken to make sure that residents were safe.

All wells at the Aliso Canyon storage facility must pass state inspection before any more gas can be injected into the field, officials said. Air quality testing would continue in the area. And an investigation into how the blowout occurred would begin.

“Gas emissions are controlled and air quality has returned to normal levels,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation. “I understand the tremendous concern for the safety of this community.”

Common complaints from exposure to the gas have included headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, which health officials said are short-term effects caused by chemicals added to the gas, so that humans can smell a leak. Those effects should stop now that the leak was over, they said.

“All the levels that we’ve looked at are below health levels of concern, so we do not anticipate that there will be any long-term health effects in the community,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, interim health officer for the Los Angeles County Health Department.

Many residents, however, were far from convinced. Sandi Naiman, 66, has been living in a hotel in nearby Woodland Hills, where she takes care of her 2-year-old grandson. A severe asthmatic, she had developed chronic sinus problems since the leak began, she said, and got sicker every time she went home. She felt she had little choice but to go back.

“Can I afford to stay in a hotel? No,” Ms. Naiman said. “I’m nervous. We don’t feel safe with the gas company there. We’d like them out of there.”

State lawmakers have promised new regulations for all oil and gas storage — including much stricter well inspections and requirements for subsurface safety valves — which they say will help prevent another leak like the one in Aliso Canyon. The leak — which engineers believe was caused by a rupture in a 7-inch injection 500 feet below the surface — was discovered on Oct. 23. The governor declared a state of emergency in January.

Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat who lives in Porter Ranch and represents the area, said the Aliso Canyon gas field should be monitored 24 hours a day with infrared cameras, which would show on the Internet if any gas was leaking.

“There is a long way to go before this city and this community is going to want to see new gas put in Aliso Canyon,” Mr. Sherman said earlier this week.

Few officials have proposed entirely shutting down the gas field, which accounts for nearly a quarter of California’s natural gas storage capacity. Even with the facility operating far below capacity, energy officials said they were concerned about power failures in Los Angeles.

Dennis V. Arriola, the president of Southern California Gas, said the company would do what it could to reverse the environmental damage that was caused.

At its peak in late November, the leaking well was spewing more than 50 tons of methane into the atmosphere each hour. Southern California Gas, a division of Sempra Energy, has agreed to fund a program to mitigate the effects of the escaped methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“All of that will be covered by the company, not by ratepayers,” Mr. Arriola said. “We will be using company resources.” (Mr. Arriola also noted the company’s $1 billion insurance policy, which may cover some of the costs.)

Originally, the company planned to give residents only two days to return home once the leak was stopped; that timeline was extended to eight days, under an agreement with the city attorney’s office.

Residents complained that this is still not enough time. Some have called for house-by-house indoor testing, to make sure that none of the chemicals from the well have seeped into furniture or carpets.

Darren Hallihan, 43, said he and his girlfriend planned to sell their home and move away from Porter Ranch. .

“It’s just hard to feel safe up there, knowing that this is going to continue to go on,” he said. “You don’t know if this stuff is seeping slowly into the area.”


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Author: Red

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