Local assemblyman wants to open Porter Ranch gas leak probe

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who today was appointed chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, said one of his first tasks is to open an inquiry into the methane gas leak near Porter Ranch.

Gatto, D-Glendale, said he plans to hold a public hearing in the Porter Ranch neighborhood to allow residents the ability to voice their concerns and demand answers about the leak.

The Legislature's involvement brings with it the ability to regulate utilities, subpoena records, hold public meetings and call witnesses who must give sworn testimony, Gatto said.

"We want to make sure ... we get some answers, get some firm commitments" from the Southern California Gas Co., he said.

The Gas Co. has been working to stop the gas leak at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility since it was discovered on Oct. 23, a process that the utility has indicated could take until late February to late March to

Residents have complained of nausea, nosebleeds, dizziness and headaches that they say are related to the leak.

As of last week, 2,174 households had been temporarily relocated and another 2,694 were in the process, according to the Gas Co.

According to Gatto, the gas leak has implications for residents throughout the state, with many homes built near or above gas lines. "A lot of home owners are questioning whether this is something that could replicate itself again," he said.

Gatto said the goal of the inquiry is to find out how the leak happened, when and how it can be stopped, and whether it could happen again and in other communities. He also wants a closer study into the age and condition of the gas infrastructure.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has joined other, mostly state agencies in monitoring and investigating the Gas Co., sending a letter on Dec.18 to the company's president, Dennis Arriola, requesting information from the company under the Clean Air Act.

Some groups estimate the leak is spewing 110,000 pounds of methane each hour, making up about a quarter of the state's daily methane gas emissions, but Gas Co. officials have declined to give any official estimates.

Gas Co. officials said Monday they have identified the below-ground location of the natural gas injection well that has been sending large quantities of methane into the atmosphere near Porter Ranch for the past two months, and can now move on to the next stage of stopping the leak.

Gas Co. workers on Sunday found the path of the leaking well using a magnetic ranging tool, marking an "expected milestone" in what is anticipated to be a three- to four-month-long process to stop the leak.

Workers will now continue drilling along a parallel path as the leaking well toward a natural gas reservoir located more than 8,000 feet below ground, according to the utility's latest update.

Once the leaking injection well is intercepted, heavy fluids and mud will be pumped in to stop up the leak, then cement will be used to seal the well. Gas Co. officials said they are preparing to drill a back-up relief well, with work expected to begin in January and be completed in three to four months.

The Gas Co. has already told state regulators that drilling of the primary relief well will be completed by Feb. 24.

Responding to legal action by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, the Gas Co. agreed last week to respond to relocation requests within 72 hours, and to pay for a pair of retired judges to oversee and expedite relocations of residents affected by the continuing gas leak.

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