A windy day, like the one experienced in the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 26, serves as yet another reminder of the impact from the methane gas leak that has upended families and businesses in Porter Ranch.
Since the leak was first discovered back on Oct. 23 in the Aliso Canyon facility owned by the Southern California Gas company (SoCalGas), experts claim the well has sent more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that any other California facility.
They said the release of so much methane — which, at its height in November, was producing 58,000 kilograms per hour — more than doubled the amount of methane emissions throughout the entire Los Angeles basin.
And the totals were much higher than what was typically released in the state by industrial activity.
“The L.A. City Council, at their meeting said it had been getting hundreds if not thousands of complaints from way beyond Porter Ranch” about the symptoms and illnesses that Porter Ranch residents were reporting, noted Matt Pakucko, president and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch.
And it didn’t necessarily stop there.
“We know that there are elevated levels of methane all the way to Orange Country,” said Alexandra Nagy, spokesperson with the nation grassroots organization Food & Water Watch.
“And from hearing from our communities, I know people are getting sick in Woodland Hills, Canoga Park, West Hills. I’ve heard some talks of symptoms felt in the Santa Clarita area, and Simi Valley….Over the course of the AQMD hearings, they have come out and testify about having the symptoms. It’s amazing to see people from all over come in and testify about this.”
Symptom complaints have included headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds.
On Monday, Jan. 25, SoCalGas officials said a relief well being drilled in an effort to cap the leak is nearing completion, but added the job is far from completed.
According to SoCalGas, the relief well has reached a depth of about 8,400 feet and is about 200 feet away from its target. But while the relief well is nearly completed, the last phase of extending it to connect to the leaking well, then drill into it, needs more time.
Company crews plan to plug the leak by pumping fluids and mud through the relief well, and into the leaking one.
SoCalGas officials say that because of its ongoing efforts to plug the leak,SoCalGas officials say the released amount of methane has been reduced to less than 19,000 kilograms per hour.
“Our team of experts has been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week since we started the relief well operations, and we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made so far,” Jimmie Cho, senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, told City News Service. “Our top priority remains the safety of those working on the site and the residents of the community.”
Cho went on to say that SoCalGas has “developed various contingency plans in case we encounter unexpected developments in the relief-well drilling process that could slow our current progress. Our current schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the plan we have submitted to” the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.
The company still hopes to have the operation completed by or before late February.
According to SoCalGas, once the leaking gas is stopped by the fluids and mud, cement will be poured in to cut off the well from the storage reservoir, “stopping the leak at its source.”
In repairing the leak, SoCalGas officials are under orders to:
— Permanently shut down and seal the well and not inject gas into or withdraw gas from it in the future once the leak has stopped;
— Fund an independent health study to assess any potential health effects on residents;
— Fund continuous air monitoring to be conducted by SCAQMD and/or a contractor under the agency’s supervision;
— Develop and implement an enhanced leak detection and reporting program;
— Monitor the leaking well continuously with an infrared camera until 30 days after the leak has stopped;
— Provide SCAQMD with data on the amount of gas injected and withdrawn from the facility and information to calculate the total amount of methane leaked;
— Submit a plan to notify SCAQMD for notifying government agencies and the public of any reportable releases of air emissions, as defined in the plan;
— Report all odor complaints to SoCalGas since Oct. 23 and on an ongoing basis to SCAQMD; and
— Not use any odor suppressants or neutralizers in an attempt to reduce odors from the leak, unless approved by SCAQMD.
The Los Angeles City Council kept up its pressure on SoCalGas, approving a motion Tuesday for SoCalGas to keep offering relocation services not only to residents of Porter Ranch affected by an ongoing natural gas leak, but to residents of neighboring communities.
To date, residents from an estimated 2,500 area homes have been relocated, and another 1,500 other households seek relocation, SoCalGas officials said.
Students at two schools in the Porter Ranch area were moved to other campuses away from the leak.
Councilman Mitch Englander said there were fears that SoCalGas would stop offering relocation services, especially with the announcement there may be an “end in sight” in the company’s effort to cap the leaking well. He said the city is reminding the company of it’s legal obligation to offer relocation services to residents “reasonably affected” by the gas leak.
“We again, and city attorney Mike Feuer, called them to remind them that they have this stipulated order,” Englander said. “They can’t stop. They have to continue relocating and working with people. Their response was, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll do that.’”
Englander’s motion would require SoCalGas to extend relocation services to communities like Granada Hills, Northridge and Chatsworth. Company officials say they are already complying, that 10 percent of its relocation, air purification and weatherization services are for residents in those three areas.
Company officials noted that once the leak is plugged and the air clears, relocated residents will be able to return to their homes.
For Pakucko, that day can’t come soon enough, especially when he can see trees swaying in a stiff breeze, and people wrapped up in coats and scarves.
“We are in a holding pattern, waiting for SoCalGas and their experts to plug the leak,” Pakucko said. “They can’t do anything about the wind; when it blows, it blows [the leak] right down the hill toward the residents. The wind blows north to south into Porter Ranch directly from that facility.”
Pakucko has other results he wants to see come from a situation that has caused so much disruption and upheaval in Porter Ranch.
“This had better bring some regulatory changes with teeth — and real penalties for violators,” he said.