Air regulators discuss enforcement to minimize Porter Ranch gas leak

Although Southern California Gas Co. has abandoned plans to capture and incinerate gas leaking from a Porter Ranch well since October, Southland air-quality regulators will meet again Wednesday to discuss a wide-ranging enforcement order aimed at minimizing the leak.

A South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board will meet for a third time to discuss the enforcement order, which originally included requirements for capturing and disposing of the leaking gas, likely by using a system of pipes to carry it away from the Aliso Canyon storage facility and burn it off.

After two days of public testimony on the issue and concerns about the safety of such a move, SoCalGas announced Monday it was scrapping the plan.

Some AQMD officials questioned the risk of a catastrophic explosion that might result from the incineration proposal. "Our proposed order would have required SoCalGas to capture and dispose of a portion of leaking gas only if SoCalGas along with federal, state and local regulatory agencies deemed it safe to do so," according to AQMD executive officer Barry Wallerstein. "While that provision is now moot, the order still contains many important requirements to minimize leaking gas, monitor emissions and help prevent a similar incident in the future."

According to AQMD, the proposed order would, among other issues, require SoCalGas to permanently shut down the leaking well, 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.

Los Angeles County public health, emergency management and fire officials plan to hold a news conference to give an update on their response to the leak and efforts to address potential health impacts for residents.

Residents of roughly 2,500 homes have been relocated out of the Porter Ranch area by SoCalGas, with about 1,500 other households awaiting relocation, according to the utility.

Students at two schools in the area have also been moved to other campuses away from the leak.

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 Jimmy Cho, the Gas Co.'s chief engineer.

"We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental (impact), 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."

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