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

Expressing skepticism that the project can ever be made safe, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, Tuesday will tour the site of the natural gas leak at the Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility in Porter Ranch.

Sherman was scheduled to visit the site around 10:20 a.m., accompanied by L.A. city Councilman Mitch Englander, and hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. The Gas Co. was not allowing reporters on the tour.

SoCalGas President Dennis Arriola and SoCalGas Chief Engineer Jimmy Cho are scheduled to provide Sherman and his staff updates on leak situation and the efforts to plug it.

In an interview with KNX before the tour, Sherman made no effort to conceal doubts that the storage facility can be made safe. He said his skepticism stemmed in part from the fact many of the pipes being used are from the 1950s and from the absence of surface safety valves, which he said had been removed in 1979 and never replaced.

Southern California Gas Co. first reported the leaking well Oct. 23, and since then an estimated 77 million kilograms of methane have been released. Communities near the site have been dealing with foul odors and nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and other short-term ailments. Pets have also displayed unusual behaviors and such ailments as nosebleeds.

The Gas Co. announced Monday that it expects to stop the leak by late February, if not sooner, as work on its relief well project is proceeding ahead of schedule.

The relief well drilling began Dec. 4 and is expected to reach the bottom of the well at a depth of about 8,500 feet below the surface next month, according to Jimmie Cho, the engineering head.

“We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental, and supporting the community,” he said. “Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the updated plan we have submitted to state regulators.”

The Gas. Co. also said it has abandoned a plan to capture and burn the leaking natural gas. The announcement came just two days after the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that the company’s proposal to burn the gas would be placed on hold because of the risk of a catastrophic explosion.

The AQMD said the burn plan needed approval from state and federal regulators, along with fire officials. The state Public Utilities Commission had given the gas company until today to address concerns about capturing and burning the gas, noting that the design calls for blowers with electric motors, which could spark an explosion, the Los Angeles Times reported.

—City News Service

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