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AQMD Approves SoCal Gas Proposal To Minimize Gas Leak

WOODLAND HILLS ( — Southland air regulators approved a proposed abatement order on Saturday, aimed at minimizing the three-month-old leak of natural gas from a Porter Ranch-area storage facility.

According to AQMD, the approved order will, among other issues, fund an independent health study to assess effects to residents, develop an enhanced leak-detection system for all wells at the facility, report all odor complaints made to the company since Oct. 23 and stop any further injection of natural gas into the
storage facility while maximizing withdrawals.

Gas Co. officials had originally planned as part of the enforcement order to implement a system of capturing and incinerating some of the gas leaking from the Aliso Canyon storage facility. That plan was ultimately scrapped over fears that such a burn-off might spark a catastrophic explosion. Although that proposal is now moot, AQMD executive officer Barry Wallerstein said the proposed order "still contains many important requirements to minimize leaking gas, monitor emissions and help prevent a similar incident in the future."

A South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board had already met three times to discuss the order.

The board met Wednesday in San Dimas and heard from angry residents, AQMD staff and Southern California Gas Co. officials. But the panel delayed any action in response to requests from elected officials who said the board should meet closer to the Porter Ranch area so it would be easier for affected residents to attend.

Residents of roughly 2,500 homes have been relocated out of the Porter Ranch area by SoCalGas, with about 1,500 other households awaiting relocation, according to the utility.

Students at two schools in the area have also been moved to other campuses away from the leak.

Southern California Gas Co. first reported the leaking well Oct. 23.

The Gas Co. announced Monday that it expects to stop the leak by late February, if not sooner, as work on its relief well project is proceeding ahead of schedule.

The relief well drilling began Dec. 4 and is expected to reach the bottom of the well at a depth of about 8,500 feet below the surface next month, according to Jimmy Cho, the Gas Co.'s chief engineer.

"We are focused on stopping the leak as quickly and safely as possible, mitigating the environmental (impact), and supporting the community," he said. "Our schedule to control and stop the leak in February is consistent with the updated plan we have submitted to state regulators."

Los Angeles County health officials announced this week they were expanding their monitoring of the gas leak, noting that hundreds of residents have reported health problems such as nausea, headaches and nose bleeds due to additives in the natural gas.

They insisted, however, that levels of the carcinogen benzene in the area are still too low to be considered a long-term health risk, county public health officials said.

"We find that nearly all of the measured benzene concentrations in the Porter Ranch community are below the levels where adverse health effects are expected to occur," said Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection at the county Department of Public Health. "Benzene levels to date are generally in the range of those found throughout the Los Angeles region. Nevertheless, we are expanding the air monitoring effort to fully evaluate this risk, and we will continually reassess conditions as new data is generated," he said.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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