CA Gas Leak Plugged

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 @ 04:02 PM gHale

A natural gas well that leaked uncontrollably for 16 weeks and drove thousands of residents from their Los Angeles area homes finally ended up plugged Thursday.

While the well still needs to be permanently sealed with cement and inspected by state regulators, the news from Southern California Gas Co. marked the first time the massive leak has been under control since Oct. 23.

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“We’ve achieved control of the well today,” said Jimmie Cho, a SoCalGas senior vice president. He remained confident they would complete the job.

The leak should cost the company, a division of Sempra Energy, $250 million to $300 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

That figure could climb much higher because it only accounts for costs of capping the well, lost gas and relocating families. It does not include potential damages from more than 65 lawsuits, penalties from government agencies and expenses to mitigate pollution, which the company noted could be significant.

If the plug holds and all goes according to plan to seal the well, the upscale Porter Ranch community in the San Fernando Valley could begin to return to normalcy after schools closed and 6,400 families ended up uprooted as they complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other symptoms as an intermittent stench wafted through the area.

Public health officials blamed their woes on an odorant added to gas so it can end up detected and have said they don’t expect long-term health impacts.

California Governor, Jerry Brown, declared the leak at the largest underground gas storage reservoir in the West an emergency. At its peak, the leak contributed about a quarter of the state’s climate-altering methane emissions, leading some to call it the worst environmental disaster since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The blowout occurred in a 60-year-old well built to pump oil from porous rock a mile-and-a-half below the Santa Susana Mountains. After the oil ran dry in the 1970s, the field of 115 wells ended up reused to store natural gas.

When demand and prices were low, gas injected at high pressure in the ground. Officials were then able to pipe it out during cold months or to fuel gas-run electricity plants during energy spikes.

High-tech equipment will survey the ruptured pipe for clues about what went wrong after workers permanently seal it.

SoCalGas paid to relocate residents in hotels, apartments and houses. Hotel dwellers will have eight days to return home and those who moved to other accommodations can stay through the end of short-term leases they signed.

In recent weeks, 1,700 families have returned home as the rate of the leak dwindled and air filters ended up installed in their homes, the company said.