Los Angeles Times

Abatement order issued in gas leak

Agreement with air board requires utility to permanentl­y close damaged well near Porter Ranch.

- By Cindy Chang cindy.chang@latimes.com

Air regulators order the well permanentl­y shut down, but not the entire complex.

Regulators on Saturday approved an order that requires Southern California Gas Co. to take immediate steps to contain the massive natural gas leak near Porter Ranch, permanentl­y shut down the damaged well, establish a leak detection system and conduct an independen­t health study.

A special board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved the agreement, known as a comprehens­ive abatement order, during a hearing in Woodland Hills despite an outcry from affected residents who demanded the shutdown of the entire Aliso Canyon undergroun­d gas storage facility. Hundreds of residents packed the hearing room.

A gas company representa­tive said Saturday that the leaking well, which is 8,748 feet below the surface, would probably not be plugged until the end of February. The damaged well has been releasing environmen­tally damaging natural gas since Oct. 23.

Board members, who voted 4-1 to approve the abatement order, said they do not have the authority to shut down the entire storage facility.

Under the agreement with the air district, the gas company will permanentl­y close the stricken well once the leak is plugged. But it is only one of 115 wells on the San Fernando Valley property.

The gas company also agreed to publicly share data about air quality in the area as well as how much gas is leaking from the well. To prevent future leaks, the company agreed to improve its inspection and maintenanc­e procedures.

At Saturday’s hearing, the fourth and last public hearing held on the abatement order, residents of Porter Ranch and surroundin­g areas complained of dizziness, nosebleeds, headaches and asthma that they attributed to the noxious fumes from the well. Some are living in hotels, and their children have had to transfer to new schools.

Gurbux Singh said he and his wife moved out of their Chatsworth home six weeks ago because of health problems caused by the gas.

“We are literally being gassed to death,” Singh said. ‘We’d like to breathe air that we cannot smell.”

After the hearing, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, expressed disappoint­ment with the air district’s order.

“There should be no other choice but to shut down the dangerous Aliso Canyon facility,” Brune said in a statement, “and look to close every urban oil and gas facility throughout California and our country, to ensure the health of our communitie­s and our climate is never again sacrificed for corporate polluter profits.”

The abatement order requires the gas company to pay for a study on the health effects of the chemicals released by the damaged well.

“The gas company views this incident as its highest priority — to stop the leak, to do so quickly and to do so safely,” Robert Wyman, an attorney representi­ng the company, said at the hearing.

This month, the air quality district board shelved a plan to capture and burn the leaking gas amid concerns that a catastroph­ic explosion could result.

“It’s not perfect. It doesn’t provide everything the community wants,” board Chairman Edward Camarena said of Saturday’s agreement. “The things the community wants are the authority of other agencies.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency because of the leak and ordered new rules, including increased inspection­s and safety measures, for all natural-gas storage facilities in the state. Rregulator­s have put pressure on the gas company to finish plugging the well and analyze why it failed.

After the board’s vote, shouts of “Boo” and “Sellouts” rang out from the audience. Local residents, some visibly emotional, gathered outside the hearing room, saying they planned to take up their cause with Brown and others in Sacramento.

“When utilities do this, they mostly do it in underserve­d, poor, ethnic communitie­s that don’t have the will or the education or the language to put up a fight,” said Matt Pakucko, president and cofounder of Save Porter Ranch. “We have all of those things to put up a fight and make an example.”

The AQMD’s hearing board will conduct a followup hearing to review the status of the abatement order Feb. 20 at a location to be determined in the San Fernando Valley. The order extends through Jan. 31, 2017, unless the gas company has completed all requiremen­ts sooner, or the board modifies the order.

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