Photo via Southern California Gas Co.
Photo via Southern California Gas Co.

The gas leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch was officially declared capped Thursday, starting the clock for residents living in temporary housing at Gas Co. expense to return to their homes.

The Gas Co. announced last Thursday that a relief well more than 8,600 feet long had 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 to permanently seal it. The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources then worked to confirm that the flow of gas has stopped. That confirmation came Thursday, with officials saying the final tests on the integrity of the cement cap were completed late Wednesday.

“Southern California Gas, they must now do a full inspection and testing of all of the wells at Aliso before injection can resume,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of DOGGR. “Those inspections are going to have to meet new and higher standards.”

Marshall said the California Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District have also confirmed that the flow of natural gas had stopped, and air quality in the area has returned to normal levels.

With the leak formally capped, residents who were relocated from their homes due to the leak 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.

But not all residents are prepared to return. Members of a residents’ group called Save Porter Ranch plan to stage a protest Friday night, saying they will not feel safe in their homes until the entire Aliso Canyon storage facility, which has more than 100 wells on site, is shut down. The rally will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street.

The leak was first detected Oct. 23, and has led to a series of lawsuits against the Gas Co., along with criminal charges filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which alleges the company failed to immediately report the leak to state officials.

The company pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the misdemeanor charges. 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.

Gas Co. officials insisted the company did not break any laws.

Dennis V. Arriola, chairman and president of SoCalGas, said Thursday the company is already in the process of inspecting other wells at Aliso Canyon.

“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,” he said. “We’ve already started inspecting all of the other wells at Aliso Canyon and will work closely with DOGGR to verify that the wells can be operated safely in the future.

“We recognize the disruption the gas leak has caused to local residents. We are committed to earning back their trust and confidence over time through our actions, not our words,” he 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. However, health officials and County Supervisor Mike Antonovich have criticized the Gas Co. for only giving residents a week to return to their homes, saying there should be a 30-day window to ensure the air has cleared.

As of last week, people from 4,645 households were living in temporary housing at Gas Co. expense.

According to the utility, 1,726 other households that had been relocated had already returned home. 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.

Two Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were also abandoned during the leak, with classes moved to alternate locations for the rest of the school year.

Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, interim county health officer, said it’s understandable that residents will have concerns about their health, but he reiterated he does not believe there will be any long-term effects from the leak.

“All the levels we’ve looked at are below the levels of concern,” he said.

He noted, however, that testing and air monitoring will continue in the area. He said his department will announce details of further testing protocols in the coming days.

—City News Service

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