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Porter Ranch Residents Demand Closure Of Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility

PORTER RANCH ( Hundreds of Porter Ranch residents gathered this morning to demand the immediate closure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility -- the source of a months-old natural gas leak that has led to complaints of illness.

They held a protest outside Granada Hills Charter High School, where a meeting of the the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board was being held to consider how to manage the building environmental crisis.

Many of the activists held signs that read "Shut it all down," during the packed meeting.

Kristine Lloyd, a project manager with the Gas Co., said the utility plans to install a system that will capture a portion of the leaking gas, carry it a safe distance from the facility, remove fluids from the gas "and then either incinerate it or filter the odorant out of it."

"The captured odorized natural gas will be combusted by thermal oxidizers that will safely burn the gas in an enclosed, ceramic-insulated chamber," Lloyd said.

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said exactly when the process would begin is still in question, depending on the processing of permits.

"Several things have to happen, but the bottom line is we're asking the hearing board to order the Gas Co. to -- in some fashion -- collect and dispose of the maximum amount of gas feasible," Atwood told City News Service.

Lloyd said the system is being designed to be installed in two phases, and could ultimately incinerate up to 20 million standard cubic feet per day or filter odorant out of 14 million cubic feet per day.

The proposed abatement order would also require SoCalGas to continuously monitor the well with an infrared camera to improve monitoring of the leak, stop all injection of gas into the well, withdraw the maximum amount of gas possible from the well and provide data collected by the Gas Co. or its contractors since late October to determine the amount of methane that has escaped from the well.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23. SoCalGas would also be required to submit to the AQMD a plan for an enhanced leak-detection and well-inspection program. The order also calls on
the Gas Co. to commit to funding a health study on the impacts of exposure to the leaking gas.

"The health study shall also analyze any health impacts from any odor suppressants or neutralizers, and their byproducts, if any, used to mitigate other odors in the nearby community," according to the proposed order. "The health study shall be completed by a third party approved by the SCAQMD and SoCalGas, who shall not unreasonably withhold approval of the contractor."

Atwood said Saturday's hearing, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., could last more than one day, and possibly several days.

Several protesters gathered outside the hearing this morning demanding that the SoCalGas facility be shut down.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said he met with officials from SoCalGas on Friday, pushing them to actively extract gas from the well "as fast as possible every hour of every day." After the meeting, however, he said, "Unfortunately, SoCalGas confirmed that they will not be withdrawing gas as fast as possible."

He said the Gas Co. has only been withdrawing gas from the facility "as fast as they could sell the gas."

"Withdrawing the gas will reduce pressure, thus slowing the leak," Sherman said. "It will facilitate stopping the leak as efforts to date have been thwarted by the intense pressure of gas coming up from underground storage. And maximizing withdrawal may drain the facility -- or at least reduce pressure to the point where gas stops leaking -- before March."

Atwood noted that the proposed abatement order does require the extraction of gas from the well, and a ban on injecting any more into the well.

SoCalGas is in the process of digging relief wells that are expected to allow the company to cap the leak. That process, however, is not expected to be completed until February or March.

Thousands of residents have been relocated from the Porter Ranch area after complaining of health problems from the leak, and thousands more have requested relocation.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in the Porter Ranch area due to the continuing leak.

The order came two days after Brown met with a handful of residents in the Porter Ranch area and toured the storage facility and a relief well.

Brown's emergency proclamation orders that all viable actions be taken to stop the leak, withdraw natural gas from the facility and develop contingency plans in case a relief well being dug at the site fails to cap the leaking gas.

According to the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, Brown's office has agreed to take part in a community meeting that will be held Jan. 15 at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.

Members of the governor's staff and officials from state agencies involved in monitoring and investigating the leak are expected to attend. Members of the Neighborhood Council have asked
that Brown attend personally, but that has not yet been determined.

According to a recent securities filing, the Gas Co. has spent more than $50 million combating the leak. Citing the filing, the Los Angeles Times reported that more than 25 lawsuits have been filed against the utility, and "the cost of defending the lawsuits, and any damages, if awarded, could be significant."

According to The Times, the utility has told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had "at least four types of insurance policies that it believes will cover many of the current and expected claims, losses and litigation associated with the natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon."

Those policies, the utility said, have a combined limit available "in excess of $1 billion."

The Gas Co. is a subsidiary of San Diego's Sempra Energy, which has seen its stock price fall more than 15 percent since the leak was discovered at the facility in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley.

(©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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