2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 staying with family or friends, 3,162 in placement process. Growing environmental disaster in LA: Monster industry-created methane leak revealed in new aerial infrared video. What happens if SoCalGas can’t fix their leak? Was the leaking gas frac’d? Is it radioactive?

Is SoCalGas’ massive leak becoming the new normal?


# Households relocated/in process out of California Gas Co’s Toxic Leak Zone:

December 27: 5,531 +
(2,258 in temporary housing, 111 with family or friends receiving compensation from the company, 3,162 in process with more asking information on relocation)

December 10: 2,522
(1,143 in temporary housing, another 1,379 in process)

December 7: 2,000

December 2: 1400
(600 asking to relocate)

December 1: 800
(300 + 500 more in process)

November 30: 300

November 27: 170

November 23: 30



2011: Lawsuit leaves large gas storage fields in Kansas unregulated

2012: ERCB (now AER) approves well in vicinity of gas storage reservoir

In 2001, another nearby well (the 7-25 well) was allegedly fracked in the BQ “A” pool. Subsequently, it became apparent that there was communication in the 7-25 well between the BQ A and the Elkton, CrossAlta’s storage reservoir. CrossAlta argued that the fracking of the 7-25 well induced communication with its storage reservoir. CrossAlta objected to Kallisto’s application on the basis that the drilling and fracking of the proposed well would similarly pose a significant risk to the integrity of its gas storage reservoir.


Brown family has history of controversy regarding cross-border-related energy involvement in California and Mexico

Governor Jerry Brown’s insider contingent at Sempra Energy got bigger last week with the announcement that his sister, former California Treasurer Kathleen Brown, had joined the board of the San Diego-based utility giant, which owns SDG&E and the Southern California Gas Company.

“With her extensive background in investment banking and public service, Kathleen Brown provides our board with valuable experience in a broad range of financial and legal issues,” Debra Reed, Sempra’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release.

… When Jerry Brown was elected governor in 2010, his sister moved to the company’s Chicago offices, from which she retired earlier this year.

Kathleen Brown told the Chicago Tribune last year that she had relocated to Illinois to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest while her brother was governor.

“I’ve been in various out-of-state witness-protection programs, as I like to call it,” she said. “When my father was elected governor, I went to Massachusetts. Now, to be [in Chicago] when my brother is governor, is just fine.”

Even by Wall Street standards, having the sister of the California governor leading your California municipal finance team would not have passed ethical muster.

“Had she continued to work with California municipalities, it might have created the perception of a conflict of interest,” Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally said when Brown’s move was announced.

… According to Sempra’s website, Schenk chairs the board’s Liquid Natural Gas “Government Relations and Permitting” committee. Kathleen Brown will be a member of the corporation’s LNG “Joint Venture and Financing” committee.

Natural gas, the Brown family, and its late patriarch, California governor Pat Brown, father of Jerry and Kathleen, have had a controversial past together.

In March 1979, the New York Timesreported allegations that Jerry Brown had been using his influence on behalf of Silberman’s old friend from Tijuana, Carlos Bustamante.

“The governor has been courting Mexican officials, including President Jose Lopez Portillo, with the behind-the-scenes aid of Mr. Bustamante.

Some of the projects Brown has been pushing in talks with the Mexican president are those in which Mr. Bustamante and his family, the Tijuana-based owners of ten gas utility companies, have a strong financial interest.

The Bustamantes have wealth and political influence on both sides of the border, and they are emerging as vital middlemen and partners with American individuals and companies doing business with Mexico.

The story went on to say that the FBI was investigating Brown’s 1974 gubernatorial campaign for failing to report “large Bustamante contributions.” It added that Brown “would not discuss his relationship with the Bustamantes, but Gray Davis, his chief of staff, said there was not ‘the slightest connection’ between the governor’s actions and the interests of the Bustamantes.”

The wealth of the Bustamante family – Alfonso Sr., 64 years old, and his two sons, Alfonso Jr., 35, and Carlos, 34, – exceeds $200 million, according to a business associate, and includes real estate, construction, hotels, and ten utility companies that distribute propane and butane gas, the sole source of cooking and heating fuel for most of the residents of Baja California.

Their political influence in Mexico is equally vast, according to friends of the family and political observers.

The Times story added that the Bustamantes “are involved in Mexican oil and gas deals with close associates of Brown, including his father, former Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr., according to principals in the transactions.”

Governor Brown has publicly disavowed any financial ties to his father’s business activities. His father and his father’s associates have contributed sizable sums to his campaigns, however.

Some of Jerry Brown’s meetings with Mexican officials, the story said, were “arranged by Carlos Bustamante and Roberto de la Madrid, governor of Baja California Norte, Mr. Bustamante says. Mr. Bustamante attended some of the meetings and was the only nongovernment person present, according to participants.”

Bustamante, according to the 1979 Times account, “was then under contract to San Diego Gas & Electric to secure the approval of the Mexican government” for a power plant project to be built in Baja California.

“The Bustamantes received more than $100,000 from the utility to make contact with and entertain Mexican officials,” the story said. Gordon Pearce, legal counsel and vice president of SDG&E, was quoted as saying, “We always suspected the Bustamantes would ultimately build the plant and that it would be on their land.”

Carlos Bustamante is currently the mayor of Tijuana.

Brown the governor has received plenty of political cash over his career from Sempra.

Most recently, the utility kicked in $26,000 to his 2014 re-election campaign fund, disclosures show. [Emphasis added]

2015: Calmar families asked to leave homes again in effort to fix Imperial Oil’s methane leak, Ordered fix made the leak worse

2015: Why does the “No Duty of Care” legally immune AER suddenly need a Liability Management Coordinator?

2015: Linc Energy’s Massive Frac’d Land Time Bomb (like Encana’s at Rosebud?), “Executives could face the prospect of jail. Damage has been going on for years.” Secret report reveals more than 300 sq km of severe contamination to groundwater, prime agricultural land and air near Chinchilla, SE Queensland


Latest Effort To Control Damaged Gas Well Unsuccessful by Ingrid Lobet, December 29, 2015, kpbs.com

Crews from Southern California Gas and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 9. 2015.
Southern California Gas officials say a seventh effort to shut down an out-of-control well venting methane from a natural gas storage field north of Los Angeles has failed.

Well-control experts once again tried to force mud and brine down the damaged well over the Christmas holiday, trying to stem a gusher of 67,000 pounds per hour of methane. It’s considered the worst release of climate-changing methane from the oil and gas industry in California history.

But the company officials said Monday the effort to quash the flow couldn’t overcome the upward pressure of the gas.

Even so, there was some positive news. Crews succeeded in locating the underground path of the damaged well pipe. That is a crucial step, because Southern California Gas is drilling a relief well, and now that well can find its mark.

The experts in the recent failed effort to stanch the well include those with Boots & Coots Services, a division of Halliburton that advertises its ability to “address the industry’s most challenging well control problems,” and offers the telephone number 1-800-BLOWOUT.

Southern California Gas, which is part of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, lost control of the well on Oct. 23. The well had been used to inject gas underground for storage since 1973. Since the rupture, it has released approximately 145 million pounds of methane, according to the most recent estimates from the California Air Resources Board. For perspective, industrial plant inspectors who scan for methane leaks hustle to eliminate escapes of even one pound per day of the gas.

The Dec. 23 estimate from the air board is based on measurements taken by Scientific Aviation, which has made six flights through the gas plume so far and will soon make another.

The well is one of 115 in the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, some 25 miles north of Los Angeles and just over the hills from the San Fernando Valley communities of Porter Ranch, Chatsworth and Granada Hills.

The rate of release has surprised methane experts for its ferocity and because California is under a legal mandate to reduce carbon emissions to flatten the trajectory of climate change. Methane is especially concerning because it has a marked ability to trap heat in the atmosphere, thanks to the nature of its carbon-hydrogen bond. Its formula is CH4.

About the leaking well officials know this much: Its 7-inch steel wall, or casing, is ruptured at approximately 480 feet. From there, gas is migrating downward to a depth of about 1,000 feet, then slipping past the bottom end of the 11-inch outer casing and up out of the ground, said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation.

The pressure of the escaping gas has blown away earth in an area “about the size of two, three, four parking spaces,” Marshall said. The well and its concrete pad are located on a ridgeline.

This latest failure to control the well from above means the gas utility will continue with the solution it has pursued since Dec. 4 — drilling a relief well that will intercept the damaged one. That intersection will happen at a depth of approximately 8,500 feet. The relief well bore has reached a depth of about 3,800 feet, said Melissa Bailey of Southern California Gas. With that progress and now with the pinpoint location of the pipe underground, the company has shortened the estimate for completion to late February.

The social cost of the release has been high. More than 2,000 families have moved away from Porter Ranch, parts of which lie less than a mile south of the storage field, tired of smelling gas and suffering its negative effects. Hundreds more have been trying to get out, but the exodus has dried up the supply of comparable homes. The gas company has been ordered by the Los Angeles city attorney to find housing faster.

Southern California Gas and its parent company Sempra also have been named in several lawsuits and must pay for the relocations. [Emphasis added]

Massive Porter Ranch gas leak may impact new development by Gregory J. Wilcox, Decemember 27, 2015, Los Angeles Daily News

The two-month-old leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s storage facility above Porter Ranch that is pumping massive amounts of methane into the air may derail a big upscale housing development planned for the community.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has asked the Local Agency Formation Commission to block the annexation of county property in the community by the City of Los Angeles. … “I seek the annexation moratorium on the proposed Hidden Creeks development currently pending city approval,” Antonovich, a LAFCO commissioner, wrote in his letter.

He characterized the leak as “catastrophic” and noted that the 3,200 acre Aliso Canyon Storage Facility with 115 gas injection wells abuts Porter Ranch.

“The proposed Hidden Creek project will add more residential units in close proximity to the facility,” Antonovich wrote. “Until a thorough investigation can take place as to what caused the leak and what safeguards will be put into place to prevent a failure of this magnitude again, it is not appropriate to annex any further county territory to the City of Los Angeles for residential development in close proximity to Aliso Canyon.”

The leak at the well site near the top of Oat Mountain is pumping an estimated 1,200 tons of methane a day into the atmosphere and it may not be fixed until spring, the gas company said.

Many residents have complained of ill effects from [undisclosed frac chemicals in the gas?? and] the mercaptan, a compound that gives natural gas its rotten egg smell, and several thousand people are in temporary residences at gas company expense.

As of Sunday afternoon, 6,570 families had sought information on relocation assistance, said spokeswoman Anne Silva, though some might be duplicate requests.

So far the company has placed 2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 are staying with family or friends and are receiving compensation from the company and 3,162 are in the placement process, she said.

The gated community of Hidden Creeks Estates and Preserve is being proposed by Austin, Texas-based Forestar Group Inc., which has business units that deal in real estate, oil and gas and water and timber.

It wants to build 188 homes on 285-acres within Porter Ranch roughly to the north of the community’s current boundary. According to the city’s Planning Department the community’s boundaries are north of the 118 Freeway, west of Aliso Canyon and east of Browns Canyon.

Plans include an equestrian center and new youth sports fields designed for public use.

The homes will be built on lots averaging 18,500 square feet. And 25 lots will be a minimum of 20,000 square feet to over an acre and designed for horse-keeping, according to the company’s web site.

“The new community will be developed on land that has been in use for over 100 years for ranching and horse-keeping while canyons will remain protected in their natural state. Nearly 50 percent the property will be preserved as publicly accessible open space and parks, including the creation of the new 114-acre Hidden Creeks Preserve. The public will benefit from enhanced access to riding and hiking trails, as well as sports and recreation opportunities,” the site says.

The development will also include water storage for firefighting and a new hydrant system able to draw on a million gallons of water. [Natural gas and mercaptan contaminated water?]

A final traffic study that is part of the environmental impact report concluded that there are no significant traffic impacts to the neighboring community, the company said.

The primary access will be from Mason Avenue in Porter Ranch.

The proposed development is within the city’s “sphere of influence,” which means the city can annex the property. That is why the development is going through the city’s approval process and not the county’s.

City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents Porter Ranch, said that the project dates back about 10 years. [What a grand gas-leaking slam to their plan!]

The applicant is going through the (approval) process. It is in an active stage. I believe the last day for appeals was last week. It is still under city review,” he said.

Forestar did not respond to a request for comment on the moratorium request and the phone was not being answered on Christmas Eve.

It is not clear at this point what, if any, impact Antonovich’s annexation moratorium request will have on the project.

If the commission, which is made up of elected officials, including two other supervisors, grants the moratorium, Forestar could proceed with county’s approval process.

“It’s up to the applicant to make that decision,” Englander said.

Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s chief of staff, said the annexation moratorium request is a cautionary step.

“At this point with what’s going on up there and given what the residents are going through we just felt annexation would not be appropriate,” she said.

Novak said that the request will be considered at the commission’s Jan. 13 meeting and that the agency’s staff will prepare a report on the situation in Aliso Canyon before then.

The annexation process doesn’t usually get this kind of attention.

“I’ve been with the commission for nine years and this is a request I have no seen before,” Novak said of the moratorium proposal. [Emphasis added]

Leaking gas well located in Porter Ranch as relocation requests rise by Gregory J. Wilcox, December 27, 2015, Los Angeles Daily News
The crew of experts trying to stop a massive gas leak above Porter Ranch reached a milestone Sunday when it was able to locate the stricken well more than 3,000 feet underground with technology being used via a relief well, a Southern California Gas Co. spokeswoman said.

The breakthrough came in the early morning hours at a depth of 3,800 feet by technicians using a process called active magnetic ranging, and they are now preparing to continue the drilling process, spokeswoman Anne Silva said in an email.

The technology creates a magnetic field underground, which enables workers at the surface to find targets about 7 inches in diameter. It’s the same technology used during the Deep Water Horizon offshore drilling platform disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“From this point on, we will be interchanging drilling and ranging equipment as needed to increase the precision of the relief well in relation to the target well’s location and to follow it down at the appropriate distance, angle and orientation,” she said.

The relief well will follow stricken well SS 25 down to a depth of more than 8,000 feet to the chamber of the company’s 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, which has 115 wells.

Drilling fluids will then be pumped down the relief well to hopefully stop the gas flowing from SS 25. Cement will then be pumped down to permanently kill the leaking well, which will then be abandoned.

The broken well site is near the top of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. The storage facility is more than 8,000 feet deep and the gas is stored in the mountain’s sandstone pores. It has a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet.

The leak, which was discovered on Oct. 23, is coming from a well casing. It is now pumping about 1,200 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere each day.

It’s not known at this point how big the casing breech is, Silva said.

“We will only have the opportunity to determine this during the investigation we will conduct with third-party experts, DOGGR (Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources) and ourselves after the flow of gas has been stopped and required access to the SS 25 well reestablished to perform the required analysis,” she said.

There have been at least six unsuccessful attempts to kill SS 25.

Meanwhile, a second relief well is being drilled in case it’s needed and is on schedule to start operating in late January.

“At this point, we are continuing to grade the area to prepare the site for the setup of the drilling rig. Approximately 72,000 cubic yards of soil has to be cut and moved on site in order to establish a safe rig pad,” she said.

Recent Santa Ana conditions have impacted the work.

“The SS 25 site has experienced very heavy winds, and this has stopped and slowed the evaluations and other … activity we had wanted to conduct over the weekend,” Silva said.

Meanwhile, the number of families seeking help in fleeing a massive and persistent methane leak at a Southern California Gas Co. storage field above Porter Ranch has swelled to more than 6,000, the company said.

As of Sunday afternoon, 6,570 families had sought information on relocation assistance, Silva said.

So far, the company has placed 2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 are staying with family or friends and are receiving compensation from the company and 3,162 are in the placement process, Silva said.

The company is now working with 17 relocation firms, she said.

Meanwhile, residents say they have been sickened by the rotten egg smell associated with natural gas that results from an additive called mercaptan, which alerts people to the presence of natural gas.

Some have complained that the odor has permeated their homes.

The company has installed more than 100 air purification systems and is offering to have homes weatherized. 

It’s not known how many individuals have fled the area so far.

“Our numbers are fluid. … So one of our priorities after getting people placed is to be able to provide better data,” Silva said. “Our aim is to offer temporary accommodations to those affected by the odor as soon as possible, and we are trying to provide enough flexibility so that no resident should have to wait long to move away from the odor. For example, we offer to place residents at hotels as we work with them to explore more suitable temporary accommodations, as necessary.”

If any affected resident needs to seek a temporary relocation before the company’s representatives can arrange it, they can do it on their own as long as it’s within the guidelines of the company program, Silva added.

The gas company will then reimburse the family, she said.

Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge approved an agreement between SoCal Gas and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office on speeding up the relocation process.

The company now has between 24 and 72 hours to get it done, if possible. [Emphasis added]

Why Engineers Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ Enormous Methane Leak by Melissa Cronin, December 26, 2015, motherboard.vice.com

One of the biggest environmental disasters in US history is happening right now, and you’ve probably never heard of it.

… Footage taken on December 17 shows a geyser of methane gas spewing from the Earth, visible by a specialized infrared camera operated by an Earthworks ITC-certified thermographer. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released the footage last week, calling it “one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported” and “absolutely uncontained”:

… “Our efforts to stop the flow of gas by pumping fluids directly down the well have not yet been successful, so we have shifted our focus to stopping the leak through a relief well,” Anne Silva, a spokesperson for the Southern California Gas Company, told Motherboard, adding that the company is still exploring other options to stop the leak. “The relief well process is on schedule to be completed by late February or late March.”

Part of the problem in stopping the leak lies in the base of the well, which sits 8,000 feet underground. Pumping fluids down into the will, usually the normal recourse, just isn’t working, said Silva. Workers have been ”unable to establish a stable enough column of fluid to keep the force of gas coming up from the reservoir.” The company is now constructing a relief well that will connect to the leaking well, and hopefully provide a way to reduce pressure so the leak can be plugged.

It’s worth noting that the type of gas involved in this leak is part of what makes it so sinister. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate change impact. About one-fourth of the anthropogenic global warming we’re experiencing today is due to methane emissions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Leaks like the current one in California, it turns out, are a major contributor. In Pasadena, for instance, just miles from the leak in Aliso, investigators found one leak for every four miles:

[City snapshot

How many leaks: Our readings indicated an average of about one leak for every four miles we drove in Pasadena, one leak for every five miles we drove in Inglewood and one leak for every five miles we drove in Chino.

Utility: The Los Angeles Area is serviced by Southern California Gas Company.

Pipe materials: About 16% of Southern California Gas Company’s pipes are made from corrosive and leak-prone materials.

Age of pipes: More than 38% of the pipes in Southern California Gas Company’s territory are more than 50 years old.]

… Right now, relief efforts have drilled only 3,800 feet down—less than half of the way to the base of the well. At that rate, the torrent of methane pouring into California won’t be stopped any time soon. [Emphasis added]

New infrared video reveals growing environmental disaster in L.A. gas leak
by Joby Warrick, December 24, 2015, Washington Post

MUST WATCH 1:24 MIN AERIAL VIDEO OF THE LEAK [The Globe and Mail in Canada even posted this video on their website December 29!]:

Aerial footage filmed Dec. 17. shows potent, climate-damaging methane gases escaping from a massive natural gas leak at a storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon, with the San Fernando valley pictured in the background. (Environmental Defense Fund)

A runaway natural gas leak from a storage facility in the hills above Los Angeles is shaping up as a significant ecological disaster, state officials and experts say, with more than 150 million pounds of methane pouring into the atmosphere so far and no immediate end in sight.

The rupture within a massive underground containment system — first detected more than two months ago — is venting gas at a rate of up to 110,000 pounds per hour, California officials confirm. The leak already has forced evacuations of nearby neighborhoods, and officials say pollutants released in the accident could have long-term consequences far beyond the region.

Newly obtained infrared video captures a plume of gas — invisible to the naked eye — spouting from a hilltop in the Aliso Canyon area above Burbank, like smoke billowing from a volcano. Besides being an explosive hazard, the methane being released is a powerful greenhouse gas, more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.

Scientists and environmental experts say the Aliso Canyon leak instantly became the biggest single source of methane emissions in all of California when it began two months ago. The impact of greenhouse gases released since then, measured over a 20-year time frame, is the equivalent of emissions from six coal-fired power plants or 7 million automobiles, environmentalists say.

“It is one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported,” said Tim O’Connor, California climate director for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit group that obtained the video. “It is coming out with force, in incredible volumes. And it is absolutely uncontained.”

The gas is pouring from an underground storage field owned by the Southern California Gas Co. The facility, the largest of its kind on the West Coast, contains billions of cubic feet of natural gas, stored under pressure to supply the company’s 20 million customers. While the exact cause of the leak is unknown, company officials believe the problem began when an underground well casing failed, allowing the pressurized gas to push through geological cracks to the surface near the community of Porter Ranch. [Or, was a company fracing nearby? Was there a frac quake that damaged the casing?]

About 1,700 homes and two schools were evacuated because of the leak, as noxious odors settled over Porter Ranch, about 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. California officials have aided the company in a series of efforts to stop the leak, but the state officials say it could be weeks or months before the gas flow is halted.

The gas company has pledged in statements to “execute all possible efforts” to plug the leak.

“SoCalGas recognized the impact this incident is having on the environment,” company president Dennis V. Arriola said in a letter last week to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). ). The company has drilled a relief well while also pouring a brine solution and other materials into the damaged well in an attempt to seal it, so far without significant results.

The company’s losses in natural gas alone are estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, with total damages likely to exceed that figure many times over. A number of neighbors already have filed lawsuits, part of a growing outcry that includes calls for the company to close the facility altogether.

The leak is a setback to California’s efforts to reduce emissions blamed for climate change. The Brown administration is seeking to implement the country’s toughest standards on greenhouse-gas emissions by promoting renewable energy and strengthening measures to prevent methane from escaping from refineries, pipelines and storage facilities.

“We’ve been working to terminate leaks,” Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said in an interview. “This has been distressing to watch.”

While the leak is unusually large, scientists and environmental groups have long sought to call attention to the problem of methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

The Obama administration announced proposed regulations over the summer to cut down on methane leaks from drilling and storage, citing concerns about the climatic impact of the approximately 7­ million tons of methane lost to the atmosphere from industrial sources in the United States each year. Pound for pound, methane is about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Adam Brandt, an assistant professor at Stanford University’s Institute for the Environment, said substantial leaks can sometimes go completely undetected.

“Even large leaks can be hard to find if they occur away from populated areas,” Brandt said. “ One important step forward for sustainability will be to design ways to quickly detect and fix these large leaks soon after they happen.” [Emphasis added]

WHAT WENT WRONG AT PORTER RANCH? by Gene Maddaustuesday, December 22, 2015, LA Weekly

Before she retired in 2014, Anneliese Anderle was a field engineer for the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources, which regulates oil drilling. She worked out of offices in Bakersfield, Cypress and Ventura, and for a while she was responsible for monitoring the massive natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon.

Southern California Gas owns the facility, which distributes gas to 14 power plants and 21 million customers. In her years monitoring wells at Aliso Canyon, Anderle says she got to know the gas company as “a first-class operation.” [AER’s first class cousin?]

The company tended to be conservative, and to do things rigorously and by the book. But the wells at Aliso Canyon were aging, and many were starting to wear out.

“They have a beautiful facility,” she says. “It’s gleaming. They have great roads and well-marked pipelines. Everything’s painted. But just below the surface, it’s junk.”

On Oct. 23, gas company employees noticed a leak out of the ground near a well called SS-25. It was late afternoon, so they decided to come back in the morning to fix it.

The next day, however, their efforts were unsuccessful. Gas was now billowing downhill into Porter Ranch, an upscale community on the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley. Customers were beginning to complain about the smell.

Gas leaks are not uncommon, and it took a couple weeks for this one to become news. When Anderle heard about it, in early November, she pulled up the well record on a state website. The file dates back to when the well was drilled in 1953. As she looked it over, she zeroed in on a piece of equipment 8,451 feet underground called a sub-surface safety valve.

If it were working properly, the gas company would be able to shut down the well. The fact that they hadn’t meant, to her, that it must be broken. The records indicated that it had not been inspected since 1976.

“That’s almost 40 years,” she says. “It’s a long time to leave it in the well.”

As weeks went by and further efforts to stop the leak failed, it became clear that the company was dealing with an unprecedented catastrophe.

On Dec. 15, the Weekly interviewed Rodger Schwecke, a SoCalGas executive who is helping to coordinate the response to the leak. Asked about the safety valve, he said it wasn’t damaged. It actually wasn’t there.

“We removed that valve in 1979,” he said. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

He pointed out that the valve was old at that time and leaking. It also was not easy to find a new part, so the company opted not to replace it. If SS-25 were a “critical” well — that is, one within 100 feet of a road or a park, or within 300 feet of a home — then a safety valve would be required. But it was not a critical well, so it was not required.

“Now there’s definitely going to be a push for changing the regulations,” [Really? With Brown’s family on SEMPRA’s Board?] Anderle said, when told of the missing valve. “You get rid of a safety valve because it wasn’t working? A safety valve would have shut the damn well down! They’re in a bunch of trouble.”

… “This is an environmental disaster,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who stopped by Porter Ranch Community School in November, just before flying to Paris for the United Nations climate change conference. “It’s devastating. It makes you question the long-term sustainability of a carbon-based power system.”

The local impact also has been severe. About 30,000 people live in Porter Ranch, a bedroom community of gated developments with 4,000-square-foot homes that sell for $1 million or more. The neighborhood offers good schools, clean air and a sense of security. All of that has been disrupted. Many residents have experienced headaches, nosebleeds, nausea or other symptoms. Some 2,000 families have been moved to hotels or short-term rentals to escape the gas.

“It’s frightening,” says Ellen Oppenberg, a resident of Porter Ranch for 22 years. “You have a home that you used to love. People move to Porter Ranch for the views, the camaraderie and the community. Now we’re seeing it be destroyed.”

Families have agonized about whether to allow their children to play outdoors. The school district has opted to relocate two schools starting in January. Some parents have rushed their babies to the emergency room with shortness of breath. Some say their pets are throwing up. Whenever anyone gets sick they wonder, Is it the gas?

“I’m in the frame of mind of, ‘What do I gotta do to protect my family?'” says Pete Adams, a longtime Porter Ranch resident who has not left but is thinking about it. “Did I cause irreversible damage to my family by being ignorant?”

Public health officials have tried to be reassuring. The air readings are not so bad as to require a mandatory evacuation. But officials also have said that people’s symptoms are real, and have forced the gas company to pay for relocations.

Lawyers are coming in from around the country to sign up clients to sue the gas company. The first class-action suit was filed on Nov. 23, and at least two more have followed. A massive crowd came out to a megachurch on a Wednesday night to hear Erin Brockovich, the celebrity environmental crusader, give a pitch for yet another law firm.

So far, officials have not faulted the gas company’s efforts to stop the leak, nor have they cited conditions that may have caused it. But outside experts have identified several concerns. Among them is the missing safety valve. Some also have questioned why it’s taking so long to drill a relief well to seal the leak.

For a company that is generally so cautious, SoCalGas seems to have been unprepared for a leak of this magnitude. That’s especially troubling because SS-25 is far from unique. Many other wells are just as old, or older, and according to SoCalGas they also lack sub-surface safety valves. If one of them were to crack, this disaster could easily happen again.

When they bought their homes in Porter Ranch, few people had any idea they were moving so close to one of the largest gas-storage facilities in the country. Aliso Canyon is a massive natural reservoir — about one cubic mile, buried a mile and a half below ground.

Oil was discovered there in 1938. The Tidewater Associated Oil Company, owned by J. Paul Getty, produced oil and gas from the field until it was depleted in the early 1970s. Getty Oil sold the field to Pacific Lighting Corp. (a gas company formed in the 19th century when gas was used to light homes), which converted it to storage in 1972.

Sempra Energy, the successor to Pacific Lighting Corp. and the parent company of Southern California Gas, now owns the field. It is quite common for gas to be stored in depleted oil fields. In addition to Aliso Canyon, Sempra owns three smaller storage fields in Southern California: Playa del Rey, La Goleta and Honor Rancho.

Most of the wells at these fields were drilled many decades ago. In filings with the Public Utilities Commission in 2014, the company noted that of 229 wells at its facilities, half were at least 57 years old. Fifty-two of them were at least 70 years old.

Steel corrodes after decades underground. In 2008, the company had to do three costly workovers to repair leaking wells. By 2013, that number had grown to nine.

The older wells were not built to modern standards. New wells typically are sealed to the surrounding rock formation with cement from the surface of the ground to the bottom of the well. That makes the casings stronger and protects them from water. Older wells were not cemented from top to bottom.SS-25 is made of three cylinders one inside the other. Gas is escaping from a vast underground "reservoir" via a hole in the inner, 7-inch casing at 470 feet deep. The gas is traveling down to the end of the outer casing at 990 feet, then out through the rock. Modern wells are cemented from the surface to the reservoir to stop corrosion, but the 7-inch casing of this well, circa 1953-1954, was only cemented from a depth of 6,600 feet down to 8,500 feet. The hole from which gas is spewing occurred far above this safety cementing.
SS-25 is made of three cylinders one inside the other. Gas is escaping from a vast underground “reservoir” via a hole in the inner, 7-inch casing at 470 feet deep. The gas is traveling down to the end of the outer casing at 990 feet, then out through the rock. Modern wells are cemented from the surface to the reservoir to stop corrosion, but the 7-inch casing of this well, circa 1953-1954, was only cemented from a depth of 6,600 feet down to 8,500 feet. The hole from which gas is spewing occurred far above this safety cementing. Illustration by Darrick Rainey

SS-25 was cemented only from the bottom up to a depth of 6,600 feet. The rest — more than a mile of steel pipe — was left exposed to the rock formation. At the top, the 7-inch casing is surrounded by an 11¾-inch surface casing, which is cemented to the rock. But a new well also would have a layer of cement between those casings to provide greater strength and protection from corrosion.

Gas is now leaking through a hole in the 7-inch casing at 470 feet down to the bottom of the outer casing at 990 feet, and out through the rock to the surface.

The corporate culture of SoCalGas is nothing if not deliberate. And so, in 2014, the company proposed a methodical effort to check each well for corrosion. It would take about seven years and cost tens of millions of dollars. The plan was part of a request to the Public Utilities Commission to increase customers’ monthly gas bills by 5.5 percent. The alternative was to fix leaks only as they occurred, which one executive warned could be dangerous and lead to “major situational or media incidents.”

The SoCalGas plan went well beyond the requirements imposed by the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources, or DOGGR. Steve Bohlen, the outgoing head of DOGGR, has said several times that it does not appear that Southern California Gas violated any regulations.

“He said there was nothing in the record that the gas company did where they broke the rules, which is true,” says Anderle, who worked for DOGGR for 21 years. “The trouble is the rules are so soft and undemanding.”

Pressure tests must be done every five years, in addition to annual temperature surveys. But that would detect only an active leak, not one that was about to happen.

At this point, Brandon Ly is ready to go. He lives in Porter Ranch Estates, in a three-bedroom house about a mile and a half south of SS-25. He says that since the leak started he’s had rashes, body aches and blurred vision.

His bigger concern is for his wife, Judy. She’s a breast cancer survivor. Her doctor has advised her to avoid carcinogens. They’re worried about benzene, which is a carcinogen and is found in trace amounts in natural gas.

The Lys keep the windows closed and they don’t take walks anymore. Still, he worries that she’s exposed to something that could cause long-term damage. Her cancer has been in remission long enough that they can try to have a baby.

“I just want to get out of here,” Ly says.

He has called the gas company for a temporary relocation. But he really wants to sell his house. Even after this leak is plugged, there are 114 other wells at Aliso Canyon. Who’s to say one of them won’t fail? He called a real estate agent and was told that, because of the leak, it’s a bad time to sell.

“I feel like I’m trapped,” he says. “I’m stuck in a poisonous house.” 

Arlene Stein lives on the next street over. “You can smell it really bad on our cul de sac,” she says. “When it’s bad, it’s nauseating. I’ve had headaches almost continuously for the last couple of months.”

She has lived there since 1994. She moved in just before the Northridge earthquake, which damaged homes across Porter Ranch. She also was there for the Sesnon Fire in 2008, which came right up to the edge of her street.

That lasted only a few days. The gas leak has gone on for two months, with no end in sight. At first, the gas company said it would be over relatively quickly. But each attempt to kill the well failed. Finally, the company announced it was drilling a relief well, which would intercept the leaking well 8,000 feet below ground. It would take three to four months to drill.

“They just keep saying it’s very complicated and they have to go slow,” Stein says. “Why does it take four months to drill into the ground?”

As the weeks went on, more and more of her neighbors decided to relocate. The gas company will pay up to $250 per room per night, for up to 90 days. [THEN WHAT?] After calling around for several days, Stein found a vacation rental in Sherman Oaks that would allow her dogs.

“It feels like a cover-up that they didn’t tell us right away,” says Stein, one of about 200 demonstrators who recently picketed outside the entrance to Aliso Canyon, calling for its closure. “I would like them to shut down the whole facility.”

Natural gas is invisible. But heat-sensing cameras have been able to capture a plume of gas erupting out of the hillside. The situation is particularly dangerous for the 100 to 200 workers who are at the site at any given time trying to kill the well. The hillside could be undermined by flowing gas, or the gas could ignite.

For the gas company, the motto has been “work slow to work fast,” Schwecke says. They are proud that so far no workers have been injured. “If you try to rush things, that’s when something happens,” he says.

The company has taken a very cautious and deliberate approach to killing the well, starting with the most conservative option and then proceeding to more aggressive steps.

SoCalGas has made six “kill attempts,” in which brine or heavier liquid is poured down the well in an effort to stop the flow of gas. All of those efforts have failed.

The peak demand for natural gas comes during the winter. So in the fall, the company filled the reservoir almost to its capacity. [Is it possible they over-filled it and in a greedy hurry? Will the truth ever come out with Gov Brown’s family on SEMPRA’s board?] When the leak started, the reservoir was near its peak pressure.

The gas flowing out of SS-25 is moving at high velocity. Each time the gas company tries to stop it with liquid, the liquid is either blasted out the hole in the casing or back up to the top.

The last kill attempt was on Nov. 25. Though the company hasn’t come out and said so, it appears to have essentially given up on that option. On Dec. 4, six weeks after the leak began, SoCalGas began drilling the relief well.

The company has brought in Boots & Coots, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which is globally renowned in the field of well control. Once its workers intercept SS-25 at a depth of 8,000 feet, they will pour liquid and cement into the well, sealing it off.

Outside experts agree that this is a surefire way to kill the leaking well. But they have criticized both the delay in setting up the relief well and the time estimate for completing it.

“They really should have started drilling that well as soon as they found out it was leaking,” says Greg McCormack, an expert in petroleum engineering based in Houston. “They would be well on their way to being able to control the well.”

Steve Vorenkamp, a former executive at Wild Well Control, says it was his company’s practice to drill two relief wells, as was done on the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

“If one causes problems or breaks down, you have a backup,” Vorenkamp says.

The gas company is planning to drill a second relief well. But first it must grade a new well pad and bring in a drill rig from offsite. Schwecke estimates the drilling on the second well won’t begin until later in January.

He also says the company drilled the first relief well as fast at it could. He says the planning and site preparation began about two weeks after the leak was discovered.

“You can’t just set up a rig and start drilling tomorrow,” Schwecke says. “We probably did that month and a half of work in what would usually take three months.”

Yet outside experts suggest that four months is a very conservative estimate for how long the relief well ought to take.

“Oh my word,” Vorenkamp says, when told of the estimate. “I question why so long for an 8,000-foot well.”

McCormack said it should take closer to two months.

Some experts have suggested more creative ways to kill the well, such as inserting cement between the 7-inch and 11¾-inch casing. Schwecke said the company does have an easy way to do that — and said it wouldn’t work. “You can’t plug on the outside and expect it to hold,” he says. “That’s like putting a finger in a dike.”

There’s also a chance that a creative solution could unintentionally increase the flow of gas and thus make the situation worse. Such a risk would be out of character for Southern California Gas.

On Dec. 9, Erin Brockovich addressed 2,000 people at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch. She said she had heard the complaints of nosebleeds, rashes, headaches, nausea and vomiting. She warned them not to trust the gas company when its officials say the air is safe.

“I definitely want all of us to stay united,” she said. “When we all stick together, things will go better.”

In the back, people were picking up retainer agreements for Weitz & Luxenberg, the firm that works with Brockovich to file environmental suits. They planned to file the first suit within a week.

“We think it’s important that each person has his or her voice,” attorney Robin Greenwald said, “to be able to say this is how you hurt me and this is what I want in return for you hurting me.”

By the time of the meeting, R. Rex Parris, a plaintiff’s attorney and the mayor of Lancaster, had already filed a class-action lawsuit. Parris represents Save Porter Ranch, the activist group that had been raising alarms about oil drilling in the hills before the leak began.

Patricia Oliver, an attorney with the Parris firm, notes that they would bring a local perspective to the case.

“We’re trying to work with the best trial lawyers in L.A.,” she says, noting that Greenwald is from New York.

Matt Pakucko, the president of Save Porter Ranch, says that Brockovich’s presentation offered little new information. At one point, a presenter showed a map with an inaccurate location of the leak.

“They don’t even know where the fucking thing is,” he says.

There’s also the firm of McCuneWright, which filed a class-action suit on Nov. 23.

“We were the first firm to act and move on this, long before anybody else,” says David Wright, a partner in the firm. “We have an extensive amount of experience in class-action and complex litigation.”

Each firm will take a significant chunk of any settlements, ranging from 30 to 40 percent. The damages could end up being substantial. In securities filings, Sempra has said it has more than $1 billion in insurance policies.

The attorneys have given voice to a lot of people who have been deeply frustrated with the gas company. “SoCalGas has lied about absolutely every fucking thing that has come out of their mouth since the beginning,” Pakucko says. “I don’t believe a goddamn thing they say.”

But for others, there’s a concern that the lawyers are just interested in signing up as many clients as possible, and not necessarily considering what’s best for the community.

“It’s all a big money grab,” says Pete Adams, who lives about two miles from the leak along Aliso Canyon. Right now, he says he’s not interested in suing. He just wants some answers.

“I don’t need an activist, a lawyer and a con man,” he says. “What I need is a doctor, a real estate agent and a moving company.”

Sean O’Rourke lives in the Tuscany development, about two and a half miles from the leak. He can’t smell the gas at his house. He’s also looked at the air readings and doesn’t see anything that alarms him. His biggest concern is about the disruption involved in closing his children’s school.

The lawyers, he says, “may be moving too fast for the neighborhood.”

“What if all this commotion and this craziness — what if it wasn’t handled in the best way?” he says. “What if the disruption to our property values is more the cause of the hysteria and not what the actual leak was doing?”

Steve Bohlen, who just stepped down as head of DOGGR, has avoided issuing any criticism of SoCalGas. He has often said that no one has a greater incentive to stop the leak than the gas company.

“They have been very agreeable to the things we’ve requested,” he tells the Weekly. “They have some of the best talent in the world to try to solve this problem.”

Bohlen won’t comment on the causes of the leak, saying a full investigation will begin once the leak is stopped. Nor is he prepared to say whether the missing safety valve would be a focus of the investigation.

“We will have to wait for post-closure investigation for technical experts to evaluate whether that would have played a role either in the leak or in making it more difficult to seal the well,” he says.

DOGGR was formed 100 years ago to facilitate the production of oil and gas. Though its mission now includes protecting public health and the environment, it is still seen as being friendly to the petroleum industry.

“It has been a permitting agency,” says Sen. Fran Pavley, who chairs the committee that oversees DOGGR. “They don’t see themselves as a regulatory agency.”

Pavley has said she will hold hearings on the leak, which could result in new regulations. But new regulations are unlikely to satisfy activists who want Aliso Canyon closed.

“The regulatory system is broken,” said Alexandra Nagy of Food & Water Watch. “We’re not playing that game. Adding more laws on the books — we’re not falling for that.

At least in the foreseeable future, however, closing Aliso Canyon seems unlikely. Over the next decade, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power will be transitioning away from electricity generated from coal. That will force the utility to rely even more heavily on natural gas. The gas company has argued it’s essential to have storage close to its customer base. If Aliso Canyon were to close, the company says, it would have to get gas from faraway sources, which could lead to price spikes and blackouts.

Anderle believes there are new regulations that would prevent a similar leak from happening again. And since there are so many other old wells at Aliso Canyon, she says it’s worth strengthening the rules.

“You have kids that are sick. People are being displaced from their homes during Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s, and they won’t have their life back until maybe March. Property values are going to take a huge hit,” she says.

That could have been prevented if regulations were tighter. “These regulations would not give you a hint that you had trouble,” she says. “When you have a well this old, you ought to pull it every once in a while and check down hole.” [Emphasis added]

Historic Los Angeles methane leak puts natural gas emissions under scrutiny, As SoCalGas works to plug a monster methane leak, warnings abound for the electricity sector by Herman K. Trabish, December 21, 2015, utilityDIVE [Excellent visuals at link]

Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) is working to clean up the biggest known gas leak in U.S. history at one of its natural gas storage facilities in the Los Angeles region.

… Fines will eventually be levied against SoCalGas for the ongoing release of what initially was 25% of California’s monthly methane emissions and could be as much as 15% of the hourly greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. natural gas industry.

The company expects to stop the leak in April, meaning LA basin residents will have to live with a plume of methane over their communities until at least then.

But beyond the localized consequences, the massive leak raises some larger questions about the electricity sector’s move to natural gas as a more environmentally-friendly resource than coal: Since studies suggest that methane leakage of more than 3% of total production can negate any climactic benefits over burning coal, what can the electricity and gas sectors do to limit and eliminate leaks? And what are the alternatives to a move toward natural gas?

The leak

The LA basin leak was discovered October 23 during one of SoCalGas’s twice-daily well observations at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The repurposed oil field is in the Santa Susannah Mountains about a mile from the upscale Porter Ranch suburb at the northern edge of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Its 115 wells hold up to 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas for distribution to residences, businesses, and electric utilities in the L.A. basin.

Planing to stop the leak began immediately [Really?] and notifications to the appropriate regulatory agencies were sent on October 24. By October 25, a dozen or more local and state agencies were involved.

Porter Ranch residents are angry and frightened. The city is moving to close nearby schools. Those who aren’t staging protests and demanding action are evacuating. As of December 16, 1,807 households had been relocated.

The actual cause of the leak is still undetermined. SoCalGas’s hypothesis is the leak is no more than 500 feet down in the column used to move gas in and out of the well. But six attempts to stop the flow by pumping in fluids failed, according to Spokesperson Kristina Lloyd.

The company is now drilling to the caprock, 8,000 feet down, to close the opening to the column. It is expected to take three to four months. [What if frac’ing or injecting too much gas too quickly under too much pressure compromised the caprock? Is there a fix for frac’d caprock?]

“It is too early to know what is broken or leaking,” Lloyd said. “Once we get the flow of gas stopped, we will do a root cause analysis.”

Such a relief well, according to Lloyd, “is an established approach to dealing with leaking wells when they don’t respond to other procedures.”

The well, she said, is similar to the relief well BP’s engineers drilled to stop oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Massive scale

Currently, the EPA estimates that 1.8% of methane produced in the U.S. escapes into the atmosphere, but studies have shown methane leakage in some systems is nearly four times that amount, putting it well over the 3% threshold that likely cancels out gas’s climactic benefits over burning coal for electricity.

The LA basin leak is large enough to have a significant impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions from California and the nation at large.

November 7 and 10 flyover data from Aliso Canyon found an emission rate “of approximately 44,000±5,000 kilograms of methane per hour and 50,000±16,000 kilograms of methane per hour,” according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) November 20 preliminary report.

This “suggests that the Aliso Canyon gas leak would have added approximately one-quarter to the regular statewide methane emissions from October 23 to November 20,” CARB reported.

“It about doubled the amount of methane in the Los Angeles basin,” CARB Spokesperson David Clegern told Utility Dive.

By November 28, the flow had spiked to 58,000±12,000 kg of methane per hour, but the December 12 measurement found it had slowed to 36,000±6,800 kg per hour, according to CARB’s follow-up report.

While methane is only 9% of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions, it is far more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

“The IPCC now states that methane is more than 100-times more powerful for the first decade after emission, 86-times over a 20-year period, and 34-times over 100 years,” according to Cornell University professor Robert W. Howarth, who helped write one of the first academic studies on the climactic impacts of shale gas in 2011.

“This is a big deal. It is a lot of hydrocarbons escaping into the environment over a long period of time,” Howarth said.

… Based on a rounding of the CARB-reported 50,000 kg per hour flow rate, Howarth said, the LA basin leak is likely as much as 10% to 15% of the entire natural gas industry’s hourly greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a rare event,” SoCalGas’s Lloyd acknowledged. “We’ve never seen anything like this at any of our facilities.”

By Nov. 20, the LA basin leak had added approximately one-quarter to the regular statewide methane emissions in California. ….

… The leak is from only one well in a “naturally-occurring underground reservoir that held oil and gas for millions of years,” Lloyd said.

The oil and gas in the wells was depleted by drilling that began at the site in 1938. The wells there have been used for gas storage since 1941. SoCalGas has operated the facility since 1972.

The facility is maintained in accordance with safety regulations established by the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the California Public Utilities Commission, and other local, state and federal agencies. DOGGR has already opened an investigation into causes.

“We are focused on mobilization of all the resources needed to stop this leak as quickly and safely as possible,” Lloyd said. “Work to halt the leak is happening around the clock.”

“I don’t know what would cause a pipe to leak,” Howarth said. “They must not have a shut-off valve between the storage and where the break is. That’s a problem.”

Because methane is lighter than air and satellite imagery has demonstrated a plume of methane over the leak, the Federal Aviation Administration banned aircraft flying below 2,000 feet from going within a half-mile radius of the well site through March 8.

Drilling to the caprock means dealing with adjacent gas at high pressure, Howarth said. “I am sure they are worried about an explosion, but I am also sure they are trying not to worry people.”

“But,” he said, “a fire cloud in the air seems possible.”

Supply threat?

The primary off-taker of gas from Aliso Canyon is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), according to Lloyd. Its 1.4 million electricity customers make it the biggest U.S. municipal electric utility.

Aliso Canyon also supplies natural gas power plants that generate electricity for Southern California’s many other investor-owned and publicly-owned electric utilities and for millions of heating customers, she added.

“My understanding is that SoCalGas has its supply of gas for the winter there,” CARB’s Clegern said.

“A significant amount of gas is being lost,” SoCalGas’s Lloyd said. “And we are not injecting into this facility now, we are only withdrawing because we want to bring the pressure down.”

The facility is critical to SoCalGas being able to provide “safe and reliable gas across the region,” Lloyd said. “My understanding is there is so far no shortage of gas delivery to customers,” she added.

As to longer term supply impacts, SoCalGas has three other storage fields and the ability to bring in a large amount of daily supply, she said. But “if the Aliso facility should be closed or put on hiatus for an extended time, electric generation could be affected,” she said.

Because the failure of SoCalGas to deliver needed supply has such wide-ranging implications for consumers, investors, and financial markets, Lloyd was unwilling to comment further. “We don’t want to put out anything that is speculative,” she said.

The loss of the Aliso Canyon facility supply “should have very little impact,” according to California Energy Commission (CEC) Chair Robert B. Wiesenmiller.

But in the last week, as cold hit Southern California, “natural gas storage balances in the SoCal Gas system have dropped about 2%,” he said on a media call last week.

The small drop is not a threat to Southern California’s supply, he said, but the CEC is monitoring closely because “the reliability of gas supply is critically important to both gas and electric customers and protecting public safety.”

But some outside observers think the 2% drop could be more important to the electricity sector than Wiesenmiller said.

“Flexibility would be a bigger concern than raw supply,” according to Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies Executive Director V. John White. “That storage is an important cog in the way the gas company handles swings in gas demand throughout the day.”

In a state getting nearly a third of its electricity from renewables, those swings are increasingly common “but the company can probably handle the issue unless the whole facility is shut down,” he said.

Methane leaks and the electricity sector

While the Aliso Canyon leak primarily involves SoCalGas, a natural gas facility, many of the consequences and lessons apply to the electricity sector as well. Natural gas generated 54% of California’s electricity from January to May of this year, according to EIA data, and utilization of the resource nationwide is expected to grow significantly in the next decade as utilities shift away from coal generation in response to the Clean Power Plan.

The idea behind the shift to gas is that it’s a cleaner alternative to coal power plants that still generate over a third of the nation’s electricity. But the Aliso Canyon leak, experts say, is a prime example of how those good intentions may not be realized.

“Oil and gas production, along with natural gas distribution, is a significant source of methane emissions and regulatory efforts are under way to reduce emissions from those sectors,” CARB’s preliminary report said, warning that such leaks could compromise the state’s goal to cut methane emissions 40% from current levels by 2030.

“The relative magnitude of emissions from the leak compared to other sources of methane in the State underscores the urgency of stopping the gas leak,” the report said.

“My guess is they are doing everything they can to solve it as quickly as they can but why it is acceptable for industry to build infrastructure with this danger is beyond me,”  [Paid family of the Governor on the Board?] Howarth said. “The climate goals can’t be met without reducing methane.”

Because of its abundance and because its carbon dioxide emissions are lower per unit of heat energy than coal or oil, Howarth wrote in a 2011 paper that many say shale gas can be a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future.

But “significant quantities of methane are emitted into the atmosphere from shale gas development,” it documents.

“When methane emissions are included, the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is significantly larger than that of conventional natural gas, coal, and oil,” the study concluded. Credit: Howarth paper on methane emissions (used with permission)

The share of shale gas in overall U.S. natural gas production has grown significantly this decade.

In the last decade, production of natural gas from shale has gone from negligible to over 40% of 2013’s U.S. natural gas supply and 14% of its fossil fuel energy in 2013, according to a recent study of methane authored by Howarth.

Along with animal agriculture, the oil and gas industry is the major source of methane, Howarth told Utility Dive. “And they are so sloppy with it and so cavalier about it, it is just amazing to me.”

The Aliso Canyon leak is exemplary of a natural gas industry that relies on antiquated, inadequate infrastructure until it fails, he added.

The scientific community is talking about this leak as indication of what a transition to increased reliance on natural gas could mean, said University of Cincinnati Geology Professor and methane expert Amy Townsend-Small.

“Incidents like this could become more common,” Townsend-Small, a member of the team at Cornell that published the 2011 paper on methane emissions.

Because methane is more potent that carbon dioxide in the short term, it is already “responsible for nearly half the warming impact of current U.S. emissions over the next 20 years,” she and her colleagues wrote in a summary of their research.

… “We are doing everything we can to stop the flow of gas and get people back in their homes,” Lloyd said. “There is nothing we want more than to stop this leak.” [Emphasis added]

Tons Of Methane Are Spewing Out Of California, And There’s A Connection To The Governor, The out of control leak has forced thousands of residents to flee their homes. Gov. Brown’s sister is a paid board member at the company that owns the well Jim Dalrymple II, December 20, 2015, BuzzFeed News

A massive gas leak that has spewed billions of pounds of methane into the air in a northern Los Angeles neighborhood, prompting a state of emergency from local officials, has a surprising connection to Governor Jerry Brown.

… The leak was discovered in October, prompting hundreds of complaints, resident relocations, school closures, lawsuits, flight restrictions, and a condemnation from star lawyer Erin Brockovich — and shows no sign of stopping.

The methane is coming from a ruptured pipe at a storage facility owned by Southern California Gas Co., which in turn is owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy.

Gov. Brown has a number of connections to Sempra. His sister, Kathleen Brown, sits on Sempra’s board of directors. She joined the company in 2013, reportedly receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and equity. She also holds $400,000 in stock and last year received a $188,380 salary, the Associated Press reported.

Non-profit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative first called attention to Kathleen Brown’s role at Sempra, and the governor’s connections to the company, this week. Kathleen Brown did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment Friday.
But Gov. Brown’s connection to Sempra goes even deeper. Campaign finance records show that Brown has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Sempra and Sempra employees going back to at least 2006.

Brown also appointed two high-ranking Sempra representatives to a 2014 trade mission to Mexico.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Sempra said it has “outside, independent board members and we see no conflict.”

For many governors, maintaining a relationship with a prominent energy company might not raise eyebrows.

Brown, however, is different. The Golden State governor spent the year touting his green credentials and has specifically singled out methane — the gas leaking near Porter Ranch — as a greenhouse emission he wants to cut. Earlier this month he also was a star attendee at the Paris climate conference — a global gathering that explicitly aimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Brown traveled to the climate conference as the head of a delegation of state leaders who were sharing information on programs such as cap and trade. The trip was paid for by a non-profit group called Climate Action Reserve.

Climate Action Reserve’s board once included Kathleen Brown, and is still staffed by various people with connections to Brown, including former California Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis has a history of representing oil interests, and recently made headlines after a controversy over Brown’s firing of two oil regulators. The regulators refused to waive rules for oil companies, and allegedly were terminated on Brown’s orders. The incident happened in 2011, and at one point Davis — who according to a lawsuit was representing Occidental Oil — called Brown’s office and asked for the firings.

When asked if Kathleen Brown’s role at Sempra presented a conflict of interest or influenced the governor, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup responded “absolutely not.”
“The state is exercising its full regulatory and oversight authority,” Westrup told BuzzFeed News. “The focus is the health and safety of residents, period. To imply otherwise is scurrilous and irresponsible.”

Still, the web between Brown, his sister, Sempra, Davis, and Climate Action Reserve offers another illustration of the complicated relationship the governor has with the oil industry. Indeed, while Brown has been hailed by some as a champion in the fight against climate change, many environmentalists have criticized his record and question whether California deserved to be held up as an example to the world.

... Brown himself has been publicly quiet about the massive leak, though Westrup said the governor had sent a letter to the CEO of Southern California Gas Company “regarding the leak and the need for quicker action.” In the letter, supplied to BuzzFeed News, Brown notes that efforts to fix the leak have “proven insufficient.”

Westrup also pointed to action from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, which he said has been working on the leak for weeks.

Officials have contended that despite complaints of health problems, the leak does not pose a risk to the public. Still, the leak has already spewed billions of pounds of gas into the atmosphere, and it is expected to be several more months before it can finally be plugged.
In the meantime, Californians are left contending with what Brockovich recently characterized as a catastrophe that is “the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.”

This article originally stated Brown was “interrupted” during a speech in Paris, but a Brown spokesman later contacted BuzzFeed News to say that the governor had finished speaking when the heckling started, and so the event was therefore “disrupted” instead. Dec. 21, 2015, at 2:38 p.m. [Emphasis added]

Workers wary of igniting natural gas as they try to stop leak near Porter Ranch by Tony Barboza, December 15, 2015, Los Angeles Times
California regulators are taking precautions so that crews do not ignite leaking methane gas as they work to plug a defective well north of Los Angeles, the state’s oil and gas supervisor said Tuesday.

Steve Bohlen, director of the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said the precautions include keeping engines, drills, cellphones and other ignition sources at a distance from the leaking Southern California Gas Co. well.

… Special care is needed because “natural gas is escaping, venting from around the well and mixing with the oxygen in the atmosphere,” Bohlen said. He said that the methane being released poses a threat to about 100 workers at the site, but not the general public.


… Local officials, including L.A. City Council members and county supervisors, have sharply criticized the utility, demanded investigations and health studies and have called for Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene.

… John Budroe, senior toxicologist with the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said spikes in benzene have occurred only near the well site and not in residential areas.

… Bohlen said state officials have been combing through records on each well to assess their testing history and condition. “On the surface, it does not appear as though SoCalGas is guilty of any violations,” Bohlen said.

… Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said the state has also directed Southern California Gas to hire an independent third party to conduct a root cause analysis of the well failure. [Emphasis added]

FAA bans flights over Porter Ranch due to leak by Gregory J. Wilcox, December 15, 2015, Los Angeles Daily News Air Traffic Control
The Federal Aviation Administration has banned aircraft flights over Porter Ranch until early next year after a private aircraft buzzed over Southern California’s Gas Co.’s leaking well site in its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, officials said Friday.

The plane made several low passes over the site last weekend, said Dan Dout, assistant director for response at the state’s Office of Emergency Services.

“We have concerns that if planes fly over that area, it could impact worker safety at the site,” he said.

The state made the request to the FAA on behalf of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which has had personnel on site daily since the leak was discovered Oct. 23.

The flight ban is a worker safety precaution and not over any concern that a low-flying plane could trigger a fire at the site, Dout said.

One source said a low-flying aircraft might produce an ignition of gas in the atmosphere.

The temporary flight restriction was posted on the FAA website Thursday and will remain in effect until March 8, the FAA said. It has a half mile radius and extends up to 2,000 feet, the agency said.

“This TFR won’t affect commercial operations. And, because it’s so small, it will have minimal, if any, impact on private pilots,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email.

Gas company spokesman Javier Mendoza said the flight restriction is about safety.

“Out of an abundance of caution a restriction on flights under 2,000 feet was put in place to lessen the chance a low-level flight could encounter a pocket of concentrated methane,” he said by email.

“Low-level flights also could present a safety risk as they may distract workers at the leak site who are often conducting delicate operations. News media and other helicopters can easily see and video the work site from the half mile radius set by the FAA.”

The flight ban was posted on the FAA website Wednesday, the day before the state issued a second emergency order to the gas company because of the leak, and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, asked the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an investigation into the leak.

Also Friday, about 100 people protested outside one of the two schools affected by the gas leak.

Pauline Podovano’s 7-year-old son Luke is a student at Castlebay Lane Charter School but has been home sick “for weeks” because he is having trouble breathing. The whole family began feeling ill in September.

She was one of those at the 90-minute protest outside Castlebay Friday morning.

“Nobody is giving anybody any answers,” she said. “We’ve all been feeling like crap for months. We have headaches, a little nausea and our stomachs ache,” she said.

She and other parents are frustrated because they believe they are not getting straight answers from the district.

A district official said it has been in communication with parents.

“The district has met with parents at several community meetings and is preparing an action plan to address concerns,” the district said in a statement Friday, adding that it continues to monitor air quality at the schools and post results on its website. “We have also been working with individual families who have relocated as a result of the natural gas leak and who have asked to transfer their children to other schools or enroll them in independent study.”

The gas company’s Mendoza said the company has had 3,477 inquiries about relocation assistance from residents near the leak, which includes 1,815 temporary accommodations, 1,212 requests in process and 450 families the company is trying to get in touch with. [Emphasis added]

Housing market to take hit from Porter Ranch gas leak by Gregory J. Wilcox, December 13, 2015, Los Angeles Daily News

The gas leak above Porter Ranch — which has attracted national attention and a lawyer feeding frenzy, reportedly sickened several thousand residents and prompted a mass exodus to temporary housing — is also casting a pall over the residential real estate market in the wind-raked upscale enclave of mostly gated communities.

Most of the homes cost more than $1 million, but they are probably worth less today than when the leak at well site SS 25 in the Southern California Gas Co.’s huge Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains was discovered on Oct. 23.

… In addition to the leak, residents are concerned about Long Beach-based Termo Co.’s application to drill 12 new oil wells above their homes. This proposal is undergoing an environmental impact review.

Realtor Carey Eckert ,who has been selling homes in Porter Ranch since 2002, says the leak is a business buster.

He’s not getting any action now in the office or on his web site, a reliable indicator of interest in properties perched high above the Valley.

“I could see the traffic go down,” Eckert said after the gas company got word of the leak to residents in late October. “I can track traffic on my web site and nobody has been searching Porter Ranch or the zip code. I think Porter Ranch still has great appeal and will turn around. I think the long-term impact will be minimal. This is a short-term thing.”

But there will be a long-term impact on the market. The leak will likely come up in future transactions.

The Realtors association recently issued a “red alert” about the leak and the gas and oil field to its more than 9,000 members.

Its an addendum to the association’s disclosure guidelines about local facilities such as Bob Hope and Van Nuys airports, sites like the old Rocketdyne facilities and areas of high winds, oak tree preservation and wildlife such as coyotes.

“Seller and real estate brokers and their agents do not have the expertise to advise buyer on any impact oil wells (or the leak) may have on the subject property,” the addendum states. “Buyer is advised to investigate this matter during buyer’s investigation contingency period.”

Jim Link, the association’s CEO, said the group is concerned with issues such as the leak.

“We’ve had for a very long time a local addendum (in addition to the state association’s guidelines) to deal with issues around the San Fernando Valley. They (agents) should have their buyer read it and sign it,” he said about the update regarding the leak and oil well proposal.

This likely adds up to Porter Ranch being a tough market, at least for a while.

“It’s going to depress home values for a while. And if it happened once, it will it happen again and is it safe up there,” said economist William W. Roberts, director at the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at Cal State Northridge. “It’s going to make it really hard to sell (homes).” [Emphasis added]

Two excellent comments:

Cynical Observer

For Porter Ranch home owners to young to remember, way back at the end of the 20th Century, i.e. 1999, there was a huge debate in Los Angeles about whether the Los Angeles Unified School District should build a high school ON an oil and natural gas field where those substances were close to the surface and could emit harmful gases into the air.

I will never forget an opinion piece written by USC Medical School Professor Kaye Kilburn, M.D. who had been evaluating the effect of oil and gas well emissions on the brains of children who lived near oil and gas wells in Los Angeles. Dr. Kilburn wrote “Chemical Brain Injury” (John Wiley and Sons, 1998) and many scientific papers dealing with the toxic effects of chemicals. Dr. Kilburn cared about the health of all kids, even those who did not exist yet. Dr. Kilburn died of old age, but his wisdom lives on, in terms of whether anyone should raise children at homes and schools near an operating oil or gas well. Cut, paste and fix this link so you can read what Dr. Kilburn had to say 16 years ago:


Later on, in the LA Weekly May 3, 2001 edition, another opinion writer summarized Dr. Kilburn’s conclusions on a bullet point list:

Hydrogen-sulfide gas at the site is a killer; any decision to proceed with the project must be based on tests of its effects.

Hydrogen-sulfide gas kills by combining with the iron in a crucial enzyme that lets our
cells use oxygen. A large dose, one breath or two, stops our metabolic machine.

We die, unable to use surrounding oxygen. Lesser doses of hydrogen-sulfide kill the more susceptible cells in the brain, heart and kidney.

Effects of small doses of hydrogen-sulfide accumulate so that vital functions deteriorate insidiously.

When the brain deteriorates, the ability to think, reason and remember decreases.

Vision constricts from the sides, like looking down a tunnel.

Balance fails in the dark.

The speed of reaction slows.

The poisoned people look normal but behave as if they were 80 or 90 years old

Hydrogen-sulfide–exposed children have trouble recalling lessons and reciting,
and they lose the ability to read. They eventually drop out of school.

When I read Dr. Kilburn’s commentary “Don’t Use Kids as Caranies” back in 1999 I made the personal decision never to live where my kids, and now my grandkids, would be exposed to hydrogen sulfide emissions from oil or gas wells.

Ultimately, the L.A. Unified School District appointed a “commission” to study whether it was “safe” to build a school on an oil and gas field. A summary of Dr. Kilburn’s testimony to the commission, written by an LAUSD official, can be found at page 27+ here: http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/rfp…

Sadly, the Los Angeles Unified School District did not listen to Dr. Kilburn’s advice and did built the high school on the oil and gas field, but heck it was a school for poor kids with parents who might not understand how deadly oil field gas could affect their children’s brains, and their existing high schools were grossly overcrowded. The LAUSD’s decision might have been different if it was a high school for kids in Porter Ranch.

The folks who own homes in Porter Ranch DO have the intellectual ability to understand what the late Dr. Kilburn had to say: Dr. Kilburn’s view was that children should not go to school, let alone live near oil and gas wells or other facilities which emitted hydrogen sulfide gas into the air.

Is anyone measuring the hydrogen sulfide levels at the Porter Ranch schools? Is anyone measuring hydrogen sulfide levels outside homes in Porter Ranch, where kids play? What events in the Aliso Oil & Gas Field will make those hydrogen sulfide levels in the air Porter Ranch increase?

Kaye Kilburn M.D.’s research and conclusions, concerning toxic-to-the-brain gases emanating from oil and gas fields, live on for intelligent people to find, read, understand and use, even though Dr. Kilburn has gone to his rest.

Cynical Observer

What should depress prices of houses in Porter Ranch permanently, and probably will depress them to the extent that potential $500,000+ home buyers have any brains, is that even when this leaking gas well is fixed, the same thing can happen again and again, into the infinite future.

The same breakage and leakage can happen with respect to a different gas well in the Aliso Field, or even the same gas well once it is fixed, given the massive and continuing importation of natural gas from OFF-SITE into these underground wells north of the homes in Porter Ranch.

Add to that the fact that Porter Ranch is riven with north-south trending unnamed earthquake faults which could shift and break a well, any potential buyer who does his/her due diligence will have enough information to make the intelligent decision to buy a home in a different neighborhood.

The existence of the earthquake faults, the oil and gas field operations still occuring, the use of the “old wells” to inject massive quantities of natural gas into the ground all present a huge disclosure obligation for any of today’s Porter Ranch homeowners who want to sell their homes in the future, because California statutes and California appellate case law mandating detailed disclosures by real estate sellers, including ordinary homeowners, require a full and honest disclosure about problems and risks associated with a property-to-be-sold.


It’s important to note that these are newer houses. If the owner of the house is currently forced to participate in a home owners association by way of recorded deed restrictions, that would mean that their house is located in what is called a “Planned Development” under California statutes.

New homes being in a “Planned Development” would mean that under California’s Subdivided Lands Act the homebuilder was supposed to have given his retail home buyers a document informally called a “White Report” issued by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Real Estate concerning the particular subdivision of land on which the new home was built.

That White Report is supposed to contain disclosures by the State of information about risks or problems in the subdivision. (For example, in a similar project in San Juan Capistrano the builder had to disclose that landslides frequently occurred in the project’s ‘common area’.) However, over the years the homebuilding industry has “captured” the affections of the staff of the Bureau of Real Estate which issues “White Reports”, so the state-forced disclosures in White Reports have been watered down.

As a result, you may find Porter Ranch homeowners saying “We didn’t know the serious nature of the gas storage facility” even if it was disclosed in a White Report.

Alternatively, you may find Porter Ranch homeowners saying “We didn’t know at all” if the White Report released by the Bureau of Real Estate said nothing at all about the gas storage facility.

Alternatively, the disclosure in the White Reports could have been perfectly adequate, but the new home buyers didn’t read it. New home builders’ sales people have found that is usually the case.


Then there’s the separate case law based liability of the new home builder to disclose dangerous nearby conditions in a separate disclosure written by the home builder’s lawyer. The general requirement for what such a disclosure by a new-home-builder requires is almost always subject to litigation when there is a serious problem in the neighborhood of new tract homes, because angry buyers of the new homes think, several years later when serious problems arise, that the new home builder’s disclosure was never enough to truly warn and inform them.

Close to 20 years ago, buyers of new homes around Valley Circle Drive sued their homebuilder for failing to disclose that their land, and the wind blowing across it daily, would likely be contaminated with radioactive dust from the old melted-down nuclear reactor at the “Burro Flats” testing facility at the west end of Woolsey Canyon Road. Those cases settled without there being a reported appellate opinion, so we don’t get to find out how much a new home builder’s disclosure, written by his lawyer, and given directly to new home buyers, has to say about the risks associated with a nearby dangerous condition, be it an oil field, a natural gas storage facility, a nearby earthquake fault, or radioactive dust in the wind.


The real estate brokers organization which has the most sales in Porter Ranch will get their lawyers to write a “form disclosure” to protect the brokers from liability for non-disclosure of all of the permutations of risk presented by the Aliso oil/gas field and the SoCalGas natural gas storage facility. However, that “protect-the-broker- disclosure” alone will probably NOT be detailed enough to protect the ordinary homeowners if they sell their houses in Porter Ranch without lots and lots of detailed disclosure to their buyer about the Aliso oil and gas field, the natural gas storage facility, the history of the leak and the gas cloud, and the risk of the same thing happening again 10 years from now or 10 days from now.

Even an “as is” clause in the real estate brokers standard pre-printed purchase-sale contract will not save the individual home sellers from allegations of inadequate disclosure or non-disclosure to used home buyers if there are future leaking gas disasters long after this leak is fixed or if something else bad and natural gas related happens in the Porter Ranch neighborhood.


Life has permanently changed for home owners in Porter Ranch. You now own a house which is a problem house. You will always be required by California case law and statute to make detailed disclosure to a potential buyer of that house, and no amount of trickery directed at future buyers of your used house in Porter Ranch is going to fix that problem.

Porter Ranch home owners, choose the lawyer you have represent you in suing the natural gas storage facility operator CAREFULLY, because you have only one chance to recover the dollar amount you paid for the house as a down-payment, and the amount of your mortgage, to bail yourself out of Porter Ranch on a break-even basis and walk away. Hire the best real estate and tort litigation lawyer you can find, not the one with the cheapest percentage fees. Don’t let yourself be lumped into a lawsuit with other plaintiffs, because each family’s damage amount will be different.

Do not assume you will be successful in suing the company which built your house for inadequate disclosure of risks associated with the natural gas storage in the underground wells in the Aliso Field. Why? Because homebuilders are taught to set up a separate owner/seller entity for each tract they build, and the entity which is the “grantor” or “seller” on your deed may already have gone out of business. Those of you in Porter Ranch who bought “used” houses will have a nearly impossible chance of successfully suing the company which built your home.

Don’t assume the damage to your property value will abate when the gas leak is finally shut down. The damage to your property occurred when you paid an astronomical price for a house without knowing what the existence of the gas storage facility, and an accident like this one, could do to your neighborhood over-and-over again.

If you don’t think the future disclosure problem is real, just ask the people who own houses in 2 different neighborhoods in Simi Valley whose houses were built on lots where garbage was used as fill soil back in the 1970’s. If you don’t think the future disclosure problem is real, just ask the people who own houses in the Santa Clarita neighborhood nicknamed “Slippery Hills”.


More than 20 years ago, the houses in Sand Canyon, southwards off the 14 Freeway in Canyon Country got their drinking water from wells drilled into the rock and soil under their homes. People and animals started getting sick and multiple members of one family died. It turned out that there were 2 munitions factories at the south end of Sand Canyon Road dumping toxic and carcinogenic chemicals onto the soil and into wells of their own. The ground water aquifer for the homes’ drinking water wells was polluted as a result. The problem with the drinking water wells was widely known, and most mortgage lenders doing business in Southern California would not make new mortgage loans on houses in that community. The mortgage lenders were not violating any Federal or state anti-redlining laws because there was, in fact, a problem which affected the ability of a lender to resell a property after foreclosure…unsafe drinking water. That refusal to make mortgage loans on houses in Sand Canyon stopped when the City of Santa Clarita built municipal water lines to virtually all of the houses in Sand Canyon.

It’s going to be very tough to find a “red lining end date” for Porter Ranch, because the risks associated with the earthquake faults, the oil wells, the gas wells, the gas main lines and the gigantic natural gas storage facility will always be there.


State gets more involved in Porter Ranch gas leak; EPA asked to investigate
by Gregory J. Wilcox, December 10, 2015, Los Angeles Daily News

A state regulatory agency on Thursday issued a second emergency order to the Southern California Gas Co. regarding the persistent well leak above Porter Ranch and said it will convene a special panel to monitor the utility’s efforts.

Also Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the leaking well.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said the panel will consist of technical experts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory to assess efforts to repair the well in the company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility.

It will “provide independent expertise to assist in monitoring and evaluating the operator’s actions,” the agency said in a statement. “This group of scientists — with particular expertise in the areas of rock mechanics, well completion, cementing, fluid dynamics, materials and corrosion — will review data and information that the division has received and continues to receive” from the gas company.

Thursday’s action order expands on its Nov. 18 order, requesting additional testing and well data, daily briefings and a schedule for identified pathways to seal the well.

Officials said that the leak is complicated because of a break in the well casing containing the gas pipe.

“What the breach looks like is more art than science, so there is a lot we don’t know about the details of the breach,” Steve Bohlen, the outgoing head of the department, said in a conference call. “This is a serious well leak and it deserves all the attention it is getting, but it is not an uncontrollable situation.” [Really?]

The gas company also is trying to capture some of the escaping gas and put it into its distribution system and has complied with the state’s request to begin work on a secondary relief well site, Bohlen said.

The agency said the gas company already has agreed to the requirements of the new expanded order.

Javier Mendoza, a gas company spokesman, said in a statement that the company has been working with the state agency since the day the gas leak was confirmed. Thursday’s emergency order “covers important aspects of our operations as we progress through the relief well phase. We have been and will continue to fully comply with (the) order.” [Perhaps later sue the regulator like Bonavista suing AER for ordering Bonavista to deliver safe water to Sakens and their dairy herd?]

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Sherman said the leaking well has been emanating noxious gas for more than six weeks, sickening residents.

Sherman’s letter urges the EPA to commence an investigation, develop a plan to protect public health and require the company to implement that plan.

“This gas leak is not just a smelly nuisance, it’s a public health concern,” Sherman said in a statement. “There have been reports of dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds in the area — even causing some residents to relocate. The EPA should be investigating the cause of this leak and help propose action to fix the situation before more people become ill.”

Sherman wrote that a preliminary environmental health assessment by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed the health threat, noting the “neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms that may result from the inhalation.”

The moves came one day after activist Erin Brockovich held a community meeting for residents and on the eve of three days of planned protests and a community meeting about the leak.

Parents have scheduled a 9 a.m. rally today at Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary School and Porter Ranch Community School to demand the Los Angeles Unified School District relocate the students from the schoolsclosest to the gas field.

Parents planned to take their kids out of school today to pressure LAUSD to make a decision about relocating them until the leak is fixed, the group Food & Water Watch said in a statement.

Some parents have been keeping their children home and more than 540 residents have signed a petition at Change.org demanding students be relocated.

LAUSD officials said they said have been working with parents on the situation.

On Saturday, Save Porter Ranch is holding a Draw a Red Line Against SoCalGas rally to demand that the gas field be shut down and cleaned up.

The rally starts at 10 a.m. at Tampa Avenue and Sesnon Boulevard near the entrance to the storage field.

And on Sunday, the Frantz Law Group is holding a community meeting about the leak from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Porter Valley Country Club. The firm also is planning to sue the company over the leak.

The club is at 19216 Singing Hills Drive. [Emphasis added]

Natural Gas Leak from Well Won’t Be Stopped Before Holidays by Patrick Healy, December 2, 2015,
It will be well past the holidays and into the new year before it will be possible to stop and seal the massive gas leak that has been exposing Porter Ranch to noxious fumes, officials of SoCalGas Company disclosed Tuesday. Testifying before the Los Angeles City Council, SoCalGas CEO Dennis Arriola outlined a strategy that will require drilling a second “relief” well nearly two miles long to intercept the leaking well near the bottom of its 8,500 foot depth.

… Also testifying at the hearing were residents criticizing the Gas Company for the leak’s impact on their community. Speakers described the noxious odor as causing headaches and nausea. One mother said her 11-year-old son has suffered nosebleeds.

So far, the Gas Company has helped relocate more than 280 households, and another 500 are in process, said Gillian Wright, VP of Customer relations.

Just as Wright had done a week ago at an earlier hearing before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Arriola apologized to the community on behalf of the company.
“No one should have to go through these disruptions and experiences,” Arriola said.

Some residents and elected officials chose stronger words to describe the leak’s impact.
“It’s not a quality of life issue or discomfort,” said City Councilman Mitch Englander at a post hearing news conference, as Arriola stood next to him. “It’s a matter of public safety, it’s a matter of public health, and has to be treated as such.” Englander also used the word “catastrophe.”

Yet to be resolved is a gas company proposal to add another chemical to neutralize the mercaptan. It is expected to be discussed Wednesday evening at a meeting of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.

The Aliso Canyon Facility stores gas in porous sandstone that decades ago held a natural supply of oil until it was pumped out. The gas is accessed with some 100 wells.

Using the other wells to draw off natural gas and reduce pressure in the system should reduce the rate of gas escaping, and thereby reduce the odor, said Arriola, who was joined by Jimmie Cho, the company’s VP for gas operations and system integrity.

… Bohlen described to County Supervisors how natural gas in storage is kept pressurized. The leak allows the gas to expand rapidly, and as it does, it cools. In the case of the Aliso Canyon well, it appears the excaping methane cools enough to freeze in the pipe above the leak, thereby shielding the leak from the flooding fluid intended to seal it off.

Pressed by Supervisor Mike Antonovich as to whether DOGGR should take charge of the mission to stop the leak, Bohlen said that its role is regulatory, and that the responsibility belongs to the plant operator.

Well experts from Louisiana and Texas have been brought in to provide expertise, SoCalGas said.

Citing the uncertainty over the cause of the leak, and the inability to halt it quickly, some community voices are calling for the entire Aliso Canyon storage facility to be closed.
“Shut it down,” chanted a group of demonstrators outside Los Angeles City Hall.

SoCalGas emphasized it will seal off and “kill” the leaking well, but resisted the notion of closing the entire facility, citing its importance to the natural gas infrastructure for Southern California, and pledging to investigate the cause of the leak to prevent a recurrence.

Asked if such a facility should be located farther from communities, Arriola said natural porous sandstone formations are not portable like manmade pipelines.

“We can’t just pick it up and move it somewhere else,” said Arriola.

[Earlier posts:

Industry’s Massive Natural Gas Leak Into Porter Ranch Community to Be Declared Local State of Emergency, More than 1,000 households moved out, another 1,379 leaving

L.A. city attorney sues SoCal Gas over gas leak making Porter Ranch homes “unlivable.” Why isn’t Alberta’s Attorney General suing Encana & AER for illegally frac’ing a community’s drinking water supply, then engaging in Charter violations, fraud to cover it up?

First 30 families relocated out of California Gas Co’s catastrophic gas storage leak in community of Porter Ranch, then 170, then 300, then 800, now 600 more asking to leave

Public and Corporate Health Fraud? Where’s the regulator? Huge natural gas leak in California has impact of burning 300 million gallons of gasoline, is sickening residents, could take months to fix, class action lawsuit filed ]

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