Porter Ranch-area residents call for cameras, tests and other safety measures

With a permanent seal for the Porter Ranch gas leak close, officials and residents are pushing for more safety precautions.

On Monday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich called on county health officials to perform random tests of air and surface pollution across the neighborhood, from which thousands of residents had fled because of the leak.

"This action will provide our residents a small sense of security as they begin to put their lives back together again," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, residents are renewing their call for a list of safety measures to prevent a repeat of the long, slow environmental disaster.

Before they move back, some residents want independent experts to conduct a random sample of the air quality inside abandoned homes to make sure harmful chemicals haven't settled in carpets, furniture and other soft material, said Paula Cracium, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.

Residents also want Southern California Gas Co. to replace the aging wells at the Aliso Canyon storage site and set up publicly accessible video feeds from infrared cameras that would show if a well is leaking, Cracium said.

Though gas leaks are invisible to the naked eye, state air-quality regulators released dramatic infrared video from Thursday that showed the flow of gas stopping after crews, who had spent months digging a relief well, were finally able to inject a mixture of heavy fluid and mud that temporarily blocked the leak.

A system of such cameras would bring peace of mind to residents who are traumatized by what they've been through in recent months, Cracium said. "How amazing would it be if you smelled a gas leak and could go online and instantly check if it was coming from one of the wells?" she asked.

On Sunday, company spokesman Javier Mendoza declined to comment on the likelihood of a camera network, but said, "We know we've angered people, but SoCal Gas is committed to doing everything we can to regain trust and make sure this never happens again."

In the days ahead, the company and state regulators will test the seal created by the cement to ensure that even small amounts of gas are not still seeping through, and the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District will continue to test the air for methane and other compounds.

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But the drawn-out ordeal has opened a "trust gap" between residents and regulators, Cracium said. That's why some want to bring in outside experts, from universities and environmental groups that have not yet been involved, to test the air quality in their homes.

"All of the data from the experts say there is no risk, but they'd like the reassurance," Cracium said. "The community is really apprehensive."

On Friday, Sen. Barbara Boxer echoed residents' call for an independent air quality study, saying it should be done by a private group or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Before these families return home, they will need to know with certainty, with certainty, that the air will be safe to breathe and their homes will be safe to occupy," Boxer said.

The damaged well is one of 115 on the massive Aliso Canyon complex, a former oil field that was converted to an underground storage facility for natural gas. Gas company officials acknowledged there have been leaks at surrounding wells in the past, but said they were minor and corrected quickly.

The leak began in October. By January, estimates showed it had spewed more greenhouse gases than 440,000 cars emit in a year.

That's when the state enacted emergency regulations compelling the gas company to stop pumping gas into the storage facility until all of the wells were inspected and deemed safe, said Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources.

As far as cameras and other safety measures requested by residents are concerned, Schilling said her agency is in the process of updating all of the regulations that cover natural gas storage and suggestions from the public are welcome.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

MORE ON PORTER RANCH

Effort to seal the formerly leaking well near Porter Ranch makes progress

Dramatic video shows gas leak ending at Porter Ranch

Senator wants independent testing of air in Porter Ranch area before residents move back

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 15, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "More safety efforts sought in leak - Porter Ranch area residents want infrared cameras and independent tests for lingering chemicals." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe

UPDATE

Feb. 15, 10:12 a.m.: This post was updated with new proposals for pollution testing.

The first version of this article was published Feb. 17 at 7:57 p.m. 

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