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SoCalGas Appears Before Los Angeles City Council


Photo from Daily News

The Los Angeles City Council called a hearing on December 1 of the gas leak that has been underway for 40 days at the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Field in Porter Ranch. SoCalGas President Dennis Arriola spoke up for the first time during this crisis, “to the residents of Porter Ranch: I’m sorry. Although we worked hard to try and communicate with you what was going on, to provide you with accurate and timely information, we fell short. We fell short of your expectations and quite frankly of ours as well…for that shortcoming the buck stops with me as the leader of SoCalGas.”

Mr. Arriola proceeded to detail out the steps they have taken to date: traditional industry methods of pumping fluids into the impacted well to overcome the gas pressure, reservoir pressure management and techniques to reduce the odorant to the community, working with agencies for safety and to get permits to do the work. Mr. Arriola confirmed that based on their most recent attempts, drilling a permanent relief well will be required to permanently seal the well and stop the leak. Their best efforts indicate it could take three to four months. They plan to start the actual drilling later this week. Once the drilling starts their crews will be working 24x7 weather permitting to complete this process.

They are taking a multi-pronged approach to address the gas leak and the smell. They plan to attach pipes to the leaking well so they can collect the gas and use it in their system, and withdraw gas from adjacent wells to reduce the overall pressure in the reservoir and reduce the amount of gas being released from the impacted well. They are looking at solutions to collect the gas before it flows into the atmosphere. Further, they are evaluating alternatives to eliminate the smell of the odorant of the gas being released.

Outreach steps SoCal Gas is taking:

  1. Increasing resources to help provide home like accommodations to those families that have requested it.
  2. Additional services and resources (these were not specified) to residents who are remaining in their homes.
  3. Working with LAUSD to provide air filtration systems to mitigate the smell of the odorant.
  4. Opening a physical communications resource center in Porter Ranch where residents can quickly get answers to their questions.
  5. Regular community updated through various communication vehicles.

Jimmie Cho, Senior Vice President, Gas Operations and System Integrity and Incident Commander explained how gas is injected 8,000-9,000 feet into a geologic formation of sandstone rock where it is stored until it is needed in the winter. He noted that the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is the agency with oversite of the wells. On the surface the California Public Utilities Commission has jurisdiction. They complete weekly pressure readings from the wells and daily observations.

Tackling the question of why has this been taking so long, he described their process to assess and address the leak, as a very methodical, sequential process, which becomes increasingly more aggressive over time as lesser efforts are deemed unsuccessful. People have asked them why they have not just poured cement into the well the first day. Cho explained that if they had poured cement and it didn’t work, they would have more challenges to kill the well.

Also contributing to the time factor was that the equipment came from the Gulf states area and required a week to set up. Weather and safety have further complicated progress as wind has required them to stop work on a number of days.

So far they have made six attempts to kill the well in the traditional manner with fluids. They are pursuing drilling a relief well on a parallel path with their current efforts. The relief well is a way to intercept the well very close to the bottom. They will drill down 8,000 feet, intercept the leaking well, inject heavy fluids to stop it and cement it. They have no intention to save this well. They will permanently abandon it.

Cho gave his commitment as Incident Commander that “they will continue to work on this as expeditiously and safely as possible. Safety for the public, safety for our workers is paramount objective.”

Vice President of Customer Services, Gillian Wright next also apologized for how the leak has disrupted the lives of their customers. “This is more than an engineering problem, this is a community problem. We need to bring the resources to bear for the community in the same way we brought resources to bear to address the engineering issues.”

Among the things they have done for the community was beginning air sampling starting on October 30. Samples are taken at the work site and in the community so they can identify any trajectories of any contaminates. They are sampling for methane, hydrocarbon components, and mercaptan twice daily. They believe they have found no levels for health concern in any of these samples, but recognize that human noses can still smell the mercaptans, which is what they need to address. Their next focus is to reduce the odor in the community as the source of frustration and discomfort in the community.

Wright elaborated that they are working to get residents in accommodations that are as homelike as possible. “Our ultimate goal is to return these residents to their own homes in comfort as soon as possible.”

Mr. Arriola summarized their comments saying they would continue to cooperate with all agencies to learn from this incident and improve and will assist with flyovers to complete a fact based assessment of how much gas was involved.

At the conclusion of the SoCalGas briefing, Councilmember Englander declared, “I am less confident now than I was when I walked in. Neurological, gastrointestinal, respiratory issues aren’t quality of life smells.”

Steve Bohlen, head of DOGGR, spoke next explaining that their senior engineers are on hand at all times to oversee operations and provide necessary permits expeditiously. They have shifted their personnel around the State to bring in some of their top reservoir engineers. They have ordered access to all of the information and all of the tests being conducted. DOGGR is one of five agencies that reports daily to the Governor’s office. DOGGR urged SoCalGas to consider drilling the relief well early on in the process. When questioned by Englander, Bohlen acknowledged that El Nino could impact progress, but the wind is also significant. They want to avoid ignition and there are ignition sources on site with engines and lights. Methane can kill the engines and cause fire.

AQMD has received over 1,000 complaints from over 400 households. They have conducted over 36 onsite inspections. They too have taken air samples. They have issued a notice of violation of public nuisance on November 23. They have reviewed and commented on the SoCalGas odor mitigation plan. AQMD explained that one of the mitigation efforts is to use an odor suppressant material, Odex, which has not been used in this type of incident before.  It has been used as an odor suppressant in landfill operations. They are testing Odex and will be meeting with the supplier of Odex to inquire about what the impacts might be. Englander express his grave concern about being experimental at this stage. People can continue to report odors to 1-800-CUT-SMOG. AQMD provided a map of complaint locations.

Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director, Toxics Epidemiology at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health introduced himself noting they have been involved since October 28. He emphasized that what is going on in the community are health effects. “I would like to make sure that we get on the same page and speak the same language that these are health effects. They are really health symptoms.”

Flu and vacation season can make this into a perfect storm. They have received calls from 100 residences. When they realized that this problem could go on for some time, they issued the order to make voluntary relocation available. County health is most concerned about individuals with chronic conditions, like asthma, heart disease or lung disease that are exacerbated by the gas leak. Englander concluded from the County Health comments that this is a “catastrophic event.”

Englander further expressed serious concerns about the long term health risks for residents of Porter Ranch, but no answers were forthcoming on the long term effects. Individuals speaking during the public comment period stated that there are no current studies on the long term effects.

Councilmember Koretz inquired as to why it was going to take so long. SoCalGas replied that the initial drilling will be relatively quick, but as they get closer to the bottom, they will go slower and be much more methodical, drilling 20 feet, taking everything out and checking and then continuing.

LA County Assistant Fire Chief Greg Hisel explained that the methane is more ignitable than likely to be explosive. Their focus is preventing ignition. This situation is not similar to San Bruno. They have an Incident Action Plan which constantly considers work to be done, past work, and weather. They have partnered with LAFD and LAPD to be prepared with an evacuation plan.

Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council President Paula Cracium was the first speaker during public comment, “Our community is in crisis after over a month of these leaks… With no long term study (on the health effects), it has been hard to realize that we are the long term study on the effects of mercaptan.” Cracium called for 24 hour monitoring at the well sites and in our communities.

Other public comment speakers enumerated their ill health effects, expressed concern about SoCalGas’ inability to stop the leaks, and called for the facility to be shut down.

Englander wrapped up the session with his laundry list of requests declaring “my residents don’t want to be guinea pigs for new chemicals”:

  1. Requests that the Public Utilities Commission institute an investigation so that we will not have to foot the bill. The entire incident costs should be on the shareholders.
  2. Requests County Health conduct a short and long term study on the health effects of mercaptans, methane levels and other substances related to this incident. SoCalGas should foot the bill here too.
  3. SoCalGas should create a dedicated website for this incident and a storefront ADA accessible and multilingual.
  4. Formation of a Community Advisory Committee that meets weekly with representatives from Castlebay Lane Elementary, Porter Ranch Community School, HOA representatives, Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, Chatsworth/Porter Ranch Chamber of Commerce and the Councilmember’s office.
  5. Asks that SoCalGas work with LAPD to protect 500-700 vacant homes. Asking if people will allow SoCalGas to share addresses to LAPD to enable additional patrols or to enhance patrols of gated communities.
  6. Requests that LAUSD allow families to temporarily enroll in other schools, while being able to come back to their current classrooms. Request that LAUSD bring in school nurses to be available to students.
  7. Requests that any fines that are levied by the AQMD be used in Porter Ranch

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