Plan to Fix Giant Gas Leak Falls Short, Residents Plead

Hundreds of neighbors are demanding that the California well be permanently shuttered.
Demonstrators outside City Hall during a demonstration ahead of testimony before the Los Angeles City Council on the ongoing natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, California, on Dec. 1, 2015. (Photo: Gus Ruelas/Reuters)
Jan 9, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Thousands of residents have fled from their homes in Porter Ranch, California, to escape the stench and health effects of a nearby leaking gas well. Now, air regulators and the well’s operator have come to an agreement on how to tackle the problem.

The Southern California Gas Company has 10 days to begin capturing and burning off the methane escaping from a well it oversees in Aliso Canyon, according to legal documents filed Thursday. It will use pollution control devices known as carbon absorbers and thermal oxidizers to incinerate the invisible gas, which should lessen the sulfur odor plaguing the neighborhood.

Methane is a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide, although it does not stay in the atmosphere as long. When it is burned, carbon dioxide is released.

While the gas company is continuing to take actions to try to stop the leak, it does not expect to have it repaired until next month or even later.

The deal has done little to mitigate the fears of local residents in the community, about 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Hundreds crowded into the Granada Hills Charter High School on Saturday for a meeting held by the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board, voicing concerns about the potential for future leaks and unknown long-term side effects.

“You need to shut it down. It’s killing us,” resident Maureen Capra said during the hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times. “[The gas] is in my house. It’s in my furniture. It’s in our bodies.”

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health says it’s receiving daily complaints of ailments including nausea, dizziness, and headaches but also says the leak is not expected to cause long-term health problems.

The rupture began on Oct. 23 and, as of Dec. 22, had emitted 1.6 million metric tons of planet-warming greenhouse gases, according to the California Air Resources Board. Since then, thousands of families have relocated.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency this week, requiring SoCal Gas take on the financial burden for relocation and health care of residents, as well as repairs to the well.