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SoCalGas Storage Field Leak Likely to Continue 3-4 Months; Nearby Residents Evacuated

Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Tuesday told local elected officials and nearby residents that it will take up to four more months to plug a gas storage well leak that began Oct. 23 (see Daily GPINov. 12).

The repair delay and the leak’s associated odors in the area of the 86 Bcf Aliso Canyon underground storage field 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles have kicked off a slew of activity among elected officials, environmental groups, nearby residents and the Sempra gas-only utility. SoCalGas, after giving up on initial attempts to plug the leak, is now drilling an adjacent relief well and contemplating other measures to mitigate the ill effects of the gas odors.

On Wednesday, SoCalGas was in the process of relocating residents from up to 850 homes and trying to sooth growing uneasiness in the residential community of Porter Ranch. At the same time, there is increasing activity among local and state officials wanting a quick fix.

On Tuesday SoCalGas CEO Dennis Arriola was apologetic in answering questions from the Los Angeles City Council, acknowledging that the incident has "gone on way too long."

In a letter sent to residents on Wednesday, Arriola apologized and said it is a difficult situation and the gas utility appreciated the residents patience. That patience was wearing thin, based on comments in local news media this week, and an editorial in the Los Angeles Times critical of state officials and SoCalGas.

Mirroring the concerns of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has labeled the Aliso Canyon mishap as "one of the country's largest natural gas leaks ever," the LA Times said that just as the 2010 San Bruno transmission pipeline failure was a wake-up call for greater oversight of gas pipes, the storage well leak "is a stark reminder that California must also step up its oversight of natural gas storage facilities."

The Los Angeles County elected board on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to direct state agencies to "take immediate action" to work with the gas utility to find "an expeditious resolution." Meanwhile, at the LA City Council hearing the local council representative for the area including the storage field, Mitchell Englander, called the situation "simply intolerable."

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, SoCalGas officials began indicating that the initial attempts with outside well-plugging crews from Texas were not successful, and the relief well was a likely option (see Daily GPI,Nov. 24). But both state and utility officials have reiterated that there was no threat to public health or safety. Nevertheless, the gas odors have increasingly become an issue with the Porter Ranch residences.

In its latest communications, SoCalGas lists the many steps that have been taken to resolve the situation, including fluid pumping techniques to overcome the pressure in the well, reservoir pressure management techniques, and strategies to reduce the amount of odorant spreading over the nearby residences. Outside experts, along with state and local officials, have been involved all along, the utility told residents.

"Based on the results of the last fluid pumping attempt, we have concluded that drilling a relief well is required to seal the well," Arriola said. "Our best estimate is that this process could take three to four months."

Arriola said that SoCalGas is "taking additional steps" to reduce the flow of gas and the odorant in the interim. Acknowledging the local residents' growing frustration with the situation and the company, he said "we are doing everything we can to stop this leak as fast as possible as well as provide the support the Porter Ranch community needs."

The utility is opening a temporary resource center in the residential community to assist residents and assigning more people to assist in relocations for families in "home-like accommodations."

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