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California Leaders, Area Residents Focus Ire on SoCalGas Over Leaking Storage Well

Lawsuits, investigations and public invectives were mounting in California Wednesday against Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) over a two-month-old natural gas underground storage well leak and the resulting impact on a suburban Los Angeles community.

In a second legal action this month, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer sought a court order Tuesday to appoint a special master to overseeSoCalGas efforts to relocate residents in the Porter Ranch residential community adjacent to its 86 Bcf, 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility, which is about 40 miles northwest of downtown. The residents being relocated for the most part are in an area recently built and nearest to the storage field, which opened in 1972.

While officials have acknowledged that there is no threat to public health or safety, the complaints have caused Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials in recent days to take action. Brown asked the state attorney general to launch an investigation into the gas utility's response to the leak in the 8,500-foot deep storage well that was discovered Oct. 23 (see Daily GPINov. 12).

The Los Angeles Unified School District has authorized a lawsuit against the utility to recoup expenses in relocating classrooms for two schools. Three families on Monday filed separate lawsuits citing health issues caused by the leak.

"SoCalGas did not maintain their facility properly, leading to issues involving the health and safety of residents and the community at large," said lead attorney Matthew McNicholas. "They created the conditions allowing the well to fail, causing children and families to suffer."

SoCalGas CEO Dennis Arriola on Tuesday in a letter to Brown confirmed his “company's commitment to work with state officials to develop a framework that will help guide the company's efforts to mitigate environmental impacts from the gas leak," a spokesperson said.

Operations at the state's largest underground gas storage facility have not been affected by the leak in one of more than 100 storage wells on the property (see Daily GPIDec. 18; Dec. 11).

On Tuesday, utility officials reported that work at the site and on two relief wells about 1,000 feet away had resumed on an around-the-clock basis. Crews were pumping fluids down the well to stop the flow of gas with the goal of filling the well pipe with enough brine solution to outweigh the upward pressure from the gas.

Even if the brine plugs the well, a relief well is still necessary and work continues with what SoCalGas called the completion of its phase-two plan to reach below 3,800 feet. The next phase is to involve the use of magnetic ranging technology to identify the leaking well.

"Once identified, the relief well will follow the leaking well to more than 8,000 feet in depth and intercept it near its bottom," a spokesman said. Once there is an intercept and if the brine solution has not worked, the relief well would be used to pump in heavy mud and fluids to stop the flow of gas.

"The drilling process continues around the clock, and it is expected to take three to four months to complete," the spokesperson said.

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