Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally declared a local emergency in response to the continuing gas leak that has prompted hundreds of residents to temporarily relocate from the Porter Ranch area.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich proposed the emergency declaration last week, saying the action formalizes a request “for state and federal assistance to provide … our residents in the Porter Ranch area with additional air monitoring and help with efforts to cap the well.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis, as chair of the board, proclaimed the local emergency two days later, but the decision needed the approval of the full board.

“This has been going on for 50 days,” Antonovich told his colleagues Tuesday. “This is a disaster area.”

County health officials received reports of residents suffering from nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and headaches reportedly linked to the leak and ordered Southern California Gas Co. to offer free, temporary relocation to residents in the area.

No evacuation order for the area has been issued. But so far, nearly 1,700 families have been relocated out of the area, while more than 1,000 have applied.

The Gas Co. is in the first phase process of drilling a relief well that will ultimately allow the utility to cap the leak, but the process is expected to take many more weeks.

“Today is day 11 of what we believe will be a three- to four-month period” to complete all of the work, Gas Co. spokesman Andy Carrasco told the board.

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

Gas Co. officials have said the utility’s “highest priority is to safely stop the leak as quickly as safety will allow.”

It is also important for the utility to help “affected customers” and “reduce the amount of natural gas emitting into the environment during this unfortunate situation,” according to a statement issued by the company this week.

The company 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.

A California state agency last week 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” the 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.

Antonovich suggested the utility should do more than temporarily relocate families.

Saying home values in the area had “gone into the toilet,” Antonovich asked, “Has the gas company considered purchasing all of those homes?”

Carrasco reiterated the Gas Co.’s offer of extended stay accommodations and said the utility would be opening an office in the area to handle requests and questions from residents.

The Gas Co. is also installing weatherization and air-purification systems in area homes upon request.

One Porter Ranch resident objected to the emergency declaration, saying it would further stigmatize the neighborhood.

“What homeowners are looking for is for the problem to be resolved,” said Isabel Loriente, adding that she was worried that the declaration would shift the financial burden from the utility onto the taxpayers.

“As a taxpayer, that’s the last thing I want,” Loriente said.

The board’s vote to ratify the declaration was unanimous.

—City News Service

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