For the past several days, residents of Porter Ranch have been breathing bad air.
The problem is a gas leak detected in one of the wells located in the Aliso Canyon field, an area in the mountains below the northwest San Fernando Valley community where there are dozens of oil and natural gas wells.
The Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) and Termo, a Long Beach-based oil company, have 280 gas and oil drilling wells in the area behind Porter Ranch. Termo, which has operated 24 oil and gas wells since 1989, wants to add 12 more wells and Porter Ranch residents oppose the project.
For months the Aliso Canyon field has been a source of trouble and concern for the residents in Porter Ranch, who worry that these wells could contaminate the air, water and pose a health risk to them.
The recent days of bad smell has only exacerbated their concerns.
Matt Pakucko, president and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, a community organization that’s been leading the fight against the Aliso Canyon field, said residents here noticed the foul smell on Oct. 23 and immediately called 911 and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to file a report.
Both the SCAQMD and the Los Angeles Fire Department confirmed that same day that a 40-year-old gas injection well, SS25, belonging to SoCal Gas was leaking due to well casing failure.
“This [gas leak] has inundated the area and very negatively affected residents’ health from one end of Porter Ranch to the other and all the way to Rinaldi Street, two miles away (according to the LAFD),” Pakucko said.
Pakucko contends the SoCalGas emergency hotline staff denied the leak and told residents that the smell was coming from routine natural gas releases at the Storage Facility. Undeterred, Save Porter Ranch notified residents and nearby schools about the leak and generated emails and phone calls to SoCalGas and elected representatives.
Finally, on Monday, Oct. 26, at 1:30p.m., SoCalGas admitted the leak was due to well integrity issues at its facility.
Residents Complain of Illness
“SoCalGas claims that the leak poses no threat to public health. However, Save Porter Ranch has received many complaints from residents about headaches, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and other health issues in addition to reports of sick companion animals,” Pakucko said.
“It’s appalling that SoCalGas Company denied this dangerous well-casing leak over the weekend when it should have used its resources to notify and protect their residential neighbors in and around Porter Ranch. Seeing the health impacts to our residents first-hand demonstrates that operations at the SoCalGas facility are not safe and the SoCalGas Company is more concerned with covering it up than to be transparent.”
Pakucko accused regulators being unwilling to hold polluting industries responsible during accidents or emergencies or to even notify the public when their health in endangered
“Save Porter Ranch demands a full investigation into the well leak at the SoCalGas Company storage field and a review of SoCalGas Company conduct,” he said.
Alexandra Nagy, a Southern California organizer for Food & Water Watch which supports Porter Ranch residents in their efforts, echoed those sentiments.
“Food & Water Watch stands with Save Porter Ranch in demanding a full investigation into the well leak and the conduct of the SoCalGas Company,” Nagy said.
“SoCalGas has been blatantly disrespectful to Porter Ranch residents by lying to the community about the leak and denying the validity of residents’ health concerns. The Porter Ranch community needs the support of its elected officials, Councilmember Mitchell Englander and County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, to require an investigation of the SoCalGas well leak and its impact to community health.
“Moreover, this leak is one more example that natural gas, which emits the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere when released, must be rapidly replaced with real clean energy technologies that do not put our communities and our climate at risk.”
SoCalGas Claims Leak Is Isolated
In acknowledging the leak, SoCalGas officials said it was in an isolated area of our mountain facility “more than a mile away” from any structures or public area.
“We apologize for the inconvenience and concern that this incidence may cause. Safety is our priority in any gas leak situation and in an outdoor location such as this, natural gas immediately dissipates into the air; therefore, there is no threat to public safety,” they noted on their website page.
“We understand the natural gas smell is an annoyance and may cause concern,” the statement said. “Natural gas may smell bad, but it’s not toxic. We are working as quickly as possible to safely resolve the situation and we have brought additional resources to help us determine the best solution. This may take several days or more, so we ask for your continued patience.”
SoCal Gas’ explanation went on to say a storage well is a 7-inch diameter steel pipeline that runs straight down to the naturally-occurring storage reservoir. It is used to put natural gas into underground storage and does not run near any homes or public areas.
But the company also stated that “these wells can be thousands of feet deep and this is a complex process. We will continue working diligently to stop and repair the leak, but out of an abundance of caution we cannot work at night,” in an update posted on Tuesday October 27.
The update didn’t specify when the problem would be resolved.