Gas company CEO addresses Southern California gas leak

PORTER RANCH, Calif. -- More than 2,600 families have now fled their homes due to the massive gas leak in the Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch.

But in his first interview since the leak began in October, the CEO of the company responsible says the danger has been overblown.

Dennis Arriola CBS News

Southern California Gas Company CEO Dennis Arriola asked to do his exclusive interview with CBS News as close to the leak as possible, and said he wasn't uncomfortable about being closer to the leak than homeowners.

"No, absolutely not," Arriola told CBS News. "I've been out here almost every day since October 23rd. I feel totally safe."

Arriola says the gas company is close to finishing a relief well to cap the leak, which is more than 8,000 feet down.

"When we intercept the leaking well, we basically have to hit the size of about a watermelon," Arriola explained. "We have to be very exact."

Once the leak is fixed, the bigger question is what to do with the gas. People who live nearby want the facility shut down.

The Aliso Canyon gas storage field which has been leaking across the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, California is shown in this frame grab from infrared video released to Reuters January 15, 2016. REUTERS

"There's is a lot of emotion and passion out there. Gas storage is an integral part of our state's energy environment, not just for natural gas but for electricity," Arriola said.

"What I'm saying is, it's necessary to serve the residents that live here as well as the 21 million consumers that we serve throughout all of the Los Angeles basin," Arriola continued.

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Last week, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said the gas company needs to get its priorities straight.

"They may think that this natural gas is an asset," Sherman said. "For those of us in Porter Ranch, we view it as a toxin."

"Methane is not a toxin," Arriola countered -- despite complaints from residents about persistent nose bleeds, nausea, headaches and other health problems.

"The odorant that people are smelling, that's unfortunately causing a lot of this inconvenience, is a short-term issue for people," Arriola said. "Once we finish closing or solving the leak and closing the well, the issues go away."

But with constant hearings, the issues facing the gas company won't end anytime soon.

  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.