On Monday, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) began a multi-day process of permanently sealing the leaking natural gas storage well at its Aliso Canyon facility in far north-suburban Los Angeles.

The latest work begins the “diagnostic process” with state officials to confirm that the cementing process is successful and the seal permanent, according to Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president for gas operations/system integrity and the incident commander.

While crews wait for the cement to cure into a permanent plug on a months-long natural gas storage well leak, evacuated residents and elected officials are looking for more independent testing and monitoring to make sure the leaking methane is securely capped and the several thousand abandoned homes are now free of any residue left from the odorant in the leaking gas.

Last Friday U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) met with some Porter Ranch residents and then called for an independent study of the Los Angeles residential development’s air quality because the displaced families no longer trust SoCalGas or the state regulator of the storage field, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

At the same time, SoCalGas released the latest results of a California Air Resources Board (CARB) air monitoring report confirming that the leaking well had been temporarily controlled and the emissions had stopped (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11).

“We will continue to work around the clock to seal the well with cement and cooperate fully with DOGGR as [it] works to confirm that leak has been permanently sealed,” said a spokesperson for the Sempra Energy gas utility, who added that the well-sealing and state confirmation work will take several days to complete.

“City, county and state air quality authorities consistently have reported that the leak posed no long-term health risk, and any short-term symptoms would go away once the leak was stopped,” the spokesperson said.

SoCalGas said that once DOGGR confirms the permanent seal, residents who left their homes will have eight days of utility-supported housing to transition back to their permanent residences. SoCalGas will also reimburse moving expenses for the return.

In the meantime, Boxer has written Gov. Jerry Brown and SoCalGas leaders, requesting that testing of homes and neighborhoods be done before the residents return. In addition, she and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) earlier in the month introduced an amendment to a pending energy bill in the U.S. Senate, directing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to lead a federal review of the cause of the well leak at the 86 Bcf-capacity, 3,600-acre underground storage field, the state’s largest and the nation’s fifth-largest gas storage facility.

In addition to well and air quality clearances now, members of the residents’ group Save Porter Ranch last weekend stressed that they want SoCalGas to replace all of the aging storage wells at Aliso Canyon, and in addition install accessible video feeds from infrared cameras around the storage facility that would detect leaks on a 24/7 continuous basis.