SoCal Gas temporarily plugs natural gas leak in Porter Ranch area

- Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly referred to Southern California Edison. We apologize for the error. That company is not involved in the Aliso Canyon gas leak. We meant to say Southern California Gas Co. The story has been corrected and updated.

Southern California Gas Co. crews have brought the natural gas leak from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility under control, signaling that relief is finally in sight for thousands of Porter Ranch residents, but more work needs to be done before the leak is declared sealed for all time.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer plans to hold a news conference at Shepherd of the Hills Church on Rinaldi Street in  Porter Ranch at 12:15 p.m. today to discuss the effects of the leak, which began in October.

According to the utility, a relief well more than a mile long intercepted the leaking well, and crews began pumping heavy fluids to control the flow of gas on Thursday. Work will now begin to seal the well and permanently cap the leak. "We have temporarily controlled the natural gas flow from the leaking well and begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak,'' said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of Gas Operations and System Integrity.

Gas Co. executives said that while the development is a "positive'' step, cement will still need to be injected from the relief well into the leaking well, which is expected to take several days. Once the gas company
seals the leaking well with cement, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources will have to confirm that the flow of gas has stopped. 

That process is expected to take several more days.

Once the state confirms the leak has stopped, residents who have been relocated from their homes will have up to eight days to move back to their homes. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.

As of Wednesday, 4,645 households were living in temporary housing, at Gas Co. expense. According to the utility, 1,726 other households that had been relocated have already returned home. The utility has also installed 5,467 air scrubbers at Porter Ranch-area homes and performed "weatherization'' work on 5,410 homes.

Students at two Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were also forced to move due to the leak and concerns about its impact on the health of students and staff.

Roughly 1,100 kindergarten through 8th-grade students at Porter Ranch Community School have been attending class at Northridge Middle School since the beginning of the year. The 770 kindergarten through 5th-grade students at Castlebay Lane Charter School have been at Sunny Brae Elementary School in Winnetka.

LAUSD officials said absentee rates had been unusually high at both campuses since the leak began. Despite the leak being temporarily stopped and potentially on the way to being permanently sealed, the relocated students are expected to continue classes at their temporary campuses until the end of the school year.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23 and has triggered multiple lawsuits and criminal charges filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. The Gas Co. was 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 to the present. 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.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have said they do not believe the gas leak poses any long-term risk, but it plans to continue monitoring air quality in the area.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander welcomed the news that the leak had been at least temporarily plugged. "With so many lives affected over the past our months, the news of finally stopping the leak will allow this community to begin breathing a health sigh of relief,'' he said. "The next several phases are critical to ensuring the capped well is certified, the entire facility is safe and this community can begin to recover.''

Mayor Eric Garcetti added: "I will continue to focus on helping the businesses and residents of Porter Ranch as they seek to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure the safety
and vibrancy of this incredible neighborhood, but this is welcome and long-overdue good news.''

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