The clock was ticking Saturday for Porter Ranch residents, who moved into temporary housing at Southern California Gas Co. expense during the four month gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility, to return to their homes.
However, not all residents are happy about the eight-day moving deadline.
On Friday, members of Save Porter Ranch held a protest rally at Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street, saying they won’t feel safe returning to their homes unless the entire natural gas storage field operated by SoCalGas is closed.
State officials announced Thursday that the leak, which was first detected Oct. 23, was officially capped. A relief well more than 8,600 feet long intercepted the leaking well last week, 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.
“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 also confirmed that the flow of natural gas had stopped, and air quality in the area has returned to normal levels.
With the leak declared capped, residents who were relocated from their homes into temporary housing funded by the SoCalGas will have eight days to move back. The company will not pay for housing beyond the eight-day deadline, although people living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.
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 company for only giving residents a week to return to their homes, saying there should be at least 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 SoCalGas expense.
According to the utility, 1,726 other households that had been relocated have already returned home. The company 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.
The leak 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 Wednesday to the misdemeanor charges. It 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.
SoCalGas executives insist 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.
Briana Mordick, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that while the company may be operating the wells within state guidelines, those guidelines are badly out of date.
“DOGR’s regulations for these facilities haven’t been updated in decades, and what regulations the agency does have are totally inadequate to prevent future incidents,” Mordick said. “… The process of modernizing these facilities and how they are regulated won’t be easy or fast, but it is critical to ensuring the safety of communities and protection of the environment.”
Meanwhile, the AQMD Hearing Board will meet today in Canoga Park to get an update on the now-capped leak. The board last month approved a sweeping abatement order, requiring SoCalGas not only to permanently shut down the leaking well, but to fund an independent health study to assess effects to residents, develop an enhanced leak-detection system for all wells at the facility, report all odor complaints made to the company since Oct. 23 and stop any further injection of natural gas into the storage facility while maximizing withdrawals.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, is among those expected to testify before the board at the meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. at Canoga Park High School, 6850 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
— From Staff and Wire Reports
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