The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an order banning low level flights over the gas leak area near Porter Ranch over concerns that “fumes from the gas leak could be ignited from the air.”
The FAA’s Notice to Airmen order was issued Wednesday and temporarily restricts aircraft from flying below 2,000 feet over the area, which has a half- mile radius in Porter Ranch, until at least March 8, 2016. The only exception being relief flights under the authority of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, according to the FAA.
Ian Gregor of the FAA said officials requested the Temporary Flight Restriction “out of concerns that fumes from the gas leak could be ignited from the air.”
Javier Mendoza, of the Southern California Gas Co., said the restriction “was put in place to lessen the chance a low-level flight could encounter a pocket of concentrated methane.”
“Low-level flights also could present a safety risk as they may distract workers at the leak site who are often conducting delicate operations,” Mendoza said. “This is about safety. News media and other helicopters can easily see and video the work site from the half mile radius set by the FAA.”
A California state agency, meanwhile, issued a second emergency order to SoCalGas 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 SoCalGas 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 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 a public health concern,” Sherman said.
The Gas Co. announced, meanwhile, that progress is being made to stem the flow of natural gas at the storage field.
Utility officials said crews 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 Gas Company 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 also is offering reimbursements for customers who make their own accommodation arrangements, according to the utility.
—Staff and wire reports
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