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Regulators Investigate New Health Concerns Caused By Natural Gas Leak In Porter Ranch; Fears Of Blowout Reported

PORTER RANCH ( — A new report shows the level of toxins released into the air from a massive natural gas leak near Porter Ranch has been seriously underestimated, state regulators said Friday.

The findings were released in response to Southern California Gas Company's admission to the Associated Press that the company underestimated the number of times the cancer-causing chemical benzene has spiked over the last three months.

According to Socal Gas Co., two air samples over the past three months has shown elevated concentrations of the compound.

While the company admitted that higher-than-normal readings were found at least 14 times, crews say the levels of benzene emissions are safe to the public.

Meanwhile, state regulators have expressed concern over capping the leak as it comes with the risk of a blowout or a massive fire, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Officials say the risk is high due to previous attempts to plug the well, which has made the site more vulnerable.

If a blowout were to occur, highly flammable gas -- known as SS25 -- would travel through the well instead of dissipating through underground channels at the site, the Los Angeles Times reported. The increased amount of leaking gas would then cause further environmental damage.

CBS2's Randy Paige on Friday spoke to many residents and found any frightened, angry and feeling vulnerable.

He also spoke to a SoCalGas vice president of customer service, who wanted to assure the public they were safe.

"Out work to attempt to kill the well using fluid pumping has changed some of the conditions at the site.  But the well head has been safe and has been safely secured throughout this process, "said Gillian Wright of SoCalGas. "We're very comfortable that our experts know what they're doing, that our staff knows what they're doing. And we've secured the well and we're confident the site is safe."

The natural gas leak was reported in Oct. 2015 after crews found gas spewing from the company's Aliso Canyon storage facility.

Since then, gas emissions have forced the relocation of thousands of residents. Los Angeles Unified School District students who normally attend Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School have temporarily relocated to other campuses.

SoCal Gas Co. crews expect to cap the storage facility leak by early March.

Meanwhile, state regulators are also investigating whether fracking -- the drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing -- contributed to the massive leak, the Daily News reported.

Officials say fracking at Aliso Canyon has not been widely reported, however, the act is common at underground gas storage facilities here in Southern California.

State leaders will hold a community meeting tonight to brief residents about the new health concerns.

On Friday evening, hundreds of residents turned up a local church to question state officials.

KCAL9's Tom Wait was there as frustrations boiled over.

"Why are you only worrying about the people who are leaving? What about the people who are staying in their homes? No one gives a hoot about us" said one woman.

There was applause for local councilman Mitchell Englander after he suggested shutting down the well,

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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