Regulators Order Closure of Site of Massive California Gas Leak

The company responsible for the rupture must take measures to prevent another disaster.

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Jan 24, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Three months after the Southern California Gas Company reported a leak north of Los Angeles that has emitted thousands of tons of methane, sickening residents and forcing them to relocate, state regulators have ordered the closure of the well once the rupture is contained.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s hearing board voted on Saturday to require one of the nation’s largest natural gas providers to take drastic measures to avert another disaster, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“As a result of this order, SoCal Gas must take immediate steps to minimize air pollution and odors from its leaking well and stop the leak as quickly as possible,” Barry Wallerstein, SCAQMD’s executive officer, said in a statement. “It also will require the utility to thoroughly inspect all other wells at its Aliso Canyon storage facility to help prevent another major leak in the future.”

RELATED: Plan to Fix Giant Gas Leak Falls Short, Residents Plead

The order—which came less than a month after the leak prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency—was issued after four days of hearings in which more than 110 residents and elected officials testified.

The abatement plan also mandates that SoCal Gas finance an independent study analyzing the gas leak’s potential health risks to residents, create a leak detection and reporting program for its other 114 wells on the site, and fund a continuous air monitoring system, which will be supervised by the air district or another independent agency. Additionally, the order bars SoCal Gas from using odor supressants to mask the leak and requires that all order complaints be reported to the air district.

Since the leak was discovered near the suburban Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch on Oct. 23, it has emitted into the atmosphere more than 89,000 metric tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane, according to an estimate by advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. That’s the equivalent of burning 843 million gallons of gasoline.

SoCal Gas has struggled to contain the leak, and last week the company scrapped a proposal to trap and burn the gas, heeding the air district’s warning that it could trigger an explosion.

A report released earlier this month by the Air Resources Board shows the leak emitted as much as 58,000 kilograms of methane per hour during its peak over Thanksgiving weekend. By Jan. 12, the leak was emitting about 21,500 kilograms per hour—a 60 percent reduction.