Hundreds of families living in wealthy Porter Ranch, a northern L.A. suburb, aren’t waiting around 90 days to see if Southern California Gas Company plugs a gas leak that is befouling the air, making people ill and accounting for 25% of the state’s methane emissions.
SoCal Gas said Friday that 132 families accepted relocation assistance the company was ordered to offer by the county Department of Public Health a week ago, after news of the then-3-week-old leak gained broader attention. They reportedly spent Thanksgiving in cramped San Fernando Valley hotels.
Other families are hitting the road using their own resources. As of Friday, 552 households had made inquiries about terms of the relocation. The Los Angeles Times said applicants were offered up to $250 a night per room, plus taxes and fees. There was also a food stipend.
Cameron Michaels, an 11-year-old student, explained to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors a week ago why folks are leaving:
"My school smells the gas. We are forced to be inside. I wake up with bloody noses and have terrible headaches. Now I'm told it's going to be another 90 days. It’s not OK.”
Porter Ranch is about a mile south of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility Project, a huge shale reservoir in the Santa Susanna Mountains used to store natural gas for the region. It is the largest in the West. A 40-year-old gas pipeline at the bottom of an 8,750-foot-deep well ruptured and gas is escaping into the air and permeating the soil and water.
An attempt to plug the leak through the well failed, triggering the beginning of putting Plan B in place—drill another well and intercept the gas. It takes time to bring in equipment, draw up plans, get personnel in place, talk to regulators and drill a well. It doesn’t appear the gas company did much of that for awhile.
The gas company has downplayed any serious danger from the gas leak, saying in a release, “Scientists agree natural gas is not toxic and that its odorant is harmless at the minute levels at which it is added to natural gas.” The main danger of methane is fire and its far below flammable levels (pdf), the health department says.
That odorant additive, mercaptan, is designed to allow detection of the gas by causing a physical reaction in people. Sometimes it’s just the annoying smell of rotten eggs. Other times it’s headaches, nausea and bloody noses.