Written by Garrett Schwartz and Brittany Hope
Congressman Brad Stevens and City Councilmember Mitch Englender spoke in favor of enacting updated rules, regulations and technology at the Southern California Gas Company's Porter Ranch Storage Facility, the site of the largest natural gas leak in American history.
Stevens and Englender toured the gas storage facility Tuesday morning and were briefed on SoCal Gas Co.'s most recent efforts to stop the ongoing methane gas leak.
Congressman Stevens encouraged residents to contact the gas company if the gas could be smelt from their homes or businesses. SoCal Gas Co. said that it will provide evacuation services and carbon filters to any affected residents in the five mile radius of the gas leak site.
"This is beyond a nuisance and an inconvenience," said Englender, the council member for the Porter Ranch area. "We need to restore justice to this community."
SoCal Gas Co. announced last night that it plans to permanently seal the methane gas well by late February, after it initially estimated that relief efforts would take three to four months to complete.
Additionally, the company said that it will abandon its plan to capture and burn the leaking methane gas, an alternative deemed too dangerous. The plan was expected to alleviate resident concerns in a more timely manner.
"Our top priority remains the safety of those working on the site and of the nearby community. We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental impact, and supporting the community," said Jimmy Cho, senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity for Southern Calif. Gas. "Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the plan we have submitted to state regulators."
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the ongoing leak has released nearly 84 thousand metric tons of methane and seven million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since late October 2015.
After several unsuccessful attempts to plug the gas leak, Calif. Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch, where over 2,000 households have been prompted to relocate. Additionally, local students and teachers at two different schools have been forced to relocate outside of Porter Ranch for the remainder of the school year. These students will not be able to return to their schools until next September.
Relocation and education are not the only worries of Porter Ranch residents. Residents' and animals' health are being affected, the housing market is struggling and local businesses are facing closure and financial instability.
While relief efforts are set to permanently seal the leaking well, doubts have been raised about the long-term safety of the storage facility, which operates 115 gas wells and provides services to over 22 million customers. "We've tied an umbilical cord to this company," said Englender.
SoCal Gas Co. can be contacted at 1-800-427-2200.
Reach staff reporter Garrett Schwartz here.
Reach staff reporter Brittany Hope here.