File photo.
File photo.

A state agency issued a second emergency order to the Southern California Gas Co. on Thursday expanding on a previous directive requiring the utility to provide additional “data, daily briefings and a schedule for identified pathways to seal” a leaking natural gas storage well near Porter Ranch.

The state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources had previously issued an order to the utility on Nov. 18.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23 by crews at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field facility near Northridge. Utility officials initially said the issue would be resolved in a few days or weeks but later said the leak could actually take months to fix.

County health officials say they have received reports of residents experiencing nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and headaches linked to the leak and have ordered Southern California Gas Co. to offer free, temporary relocation to area residents.

No evacuation order for the area has been issued but 700 families have voluntarily left the area and another 1,000 are applying for relocation services, officials said.

In addition to ordering the Gas Company to “expeditiously and aggressively pursue options to maximize the capture of leaking gas” and to provide within weeks detailed data about the leak and schedules and methods for sealing the well, the division also announced it would convene a panel of technical experts from the Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia national laboratories to “provide independent expertise to assist the Division in monitoring and evaluating the Operator’s actions.”

The new order comes as Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the leak.

“This gas leak is not just a smelly nuisance, it’s public health concern,” Sherman said.

“There have been reports of dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds in the area — even causing some residents to relocate. The EPA should be investigating the cause of this leak and help propose action to fix the situation before more people become ill.”

Meanwhile, the Gas Co. announced today progress is being made “to stem the flow of natural gas” at the storage field.”

Utility officials said crews on Friday began drilling a relief well that will ultimately allow them to cap the leak, but the process is expected to take “three to four months.”

Crews eventually will pump fluids and cement through the relief well into the leaking well “to stop the flow and permanently seal it,” according to a statement from the utility.

“The company has also redoubled its efforts to slow the leak and reduce odors while the relief well project is underway,” the utility stated. “These include a newly completed effort to reconnect the well to a withdrawal pipe in an effort to capture escaping gas.”

The Gas Company also opened a community resource center on Wednesday for Porter Ranch residents with questions or concerns. A dedicated website, www.alisoupdates.com, has also been established.

In addition to offering extended stay accommodations for families seeking to temporarily relocate from Porter Ranch, the Gas Company is also offering reimbursements for customers who make their own accommodation arrangements, according to the utility.

“I know that this situation has been frustrating and confusing for many families in the Porter Ranch community. The steps we’ve already taken and will continue to take moving forward will help us end this leak as quickly and safely as possible, and will allow us to better communicate with anyone who has been impacted,” said Southern California Gas Co. Vice President of Customer Services Gillian Wright.

“We will continue working to reduce the impact on our neighbors and the environment.”

County Supervisor Michael Antonovich will ask his colleagues on Tuesday to proclaim a local state of emergency in response to the leak.

“This action will ask for state and federal assistance to provide for our residents in the Porter Ranch area with additional air monitoring and help with efforts to cap the well,” Antonovich said. “This is a serious problem that has severely impacted our communities for the last 48 days.”

The company has been hit with at least two lawsuits, including one filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

It has disputed characterizations that it dallied in informing authorities of the leak, saying the utility “immediately took steps to address the leak and inform the appropriate regulatory agencies” and communicated on a daily basis with state and local officials “from the outset.”

The company added there is no way to “accurately measure the amount of natural gas being lost from the leak” until after it has been stopped and a “fact-based measurement” can be done.

— Wire reports 

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