Southern California Gas Co. crews are erecting mesh screens around the utility's leaking natural gas injection well to prevent an oily mist from drifting off the site and across the nearby community of Porter Ranch, company officials confirmed on Monday.
The move comes as the company continues to fix a leaking natural gas well that has displaced thousands of residents, a process that is expected to take several more months.
The structures under construction on the west side of the well head are designed to capture airborne droplets of a brine solution that "may have contained trace amounts of oil naturally occurring within the leaking well's reservoir," said Trisha Muse, a spokeswoman for SoCal Gas.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article said the mesh screens are 100 feet tall. The screens actually lie flat over the well site. The article also misidentified spokeswoman Trisha Muse as Tracy Muse.
The mist, she said, "may have been carried by the wind to properties immediately adjacent to the facility, particularly when very strong winds blow in that direction."
The gas company used a massive crane Sunday to install a 60-foot section of the mesh, said Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.
The problem first arose Nov. 13, when SoCal Gas used an automated call system to advise local residents to stay indoors because fluids pumped into the well had returned to the surface and created a mist. The company issued an all-clear the following day.
Now, a mixture of brine water and oil is rising up into the gas company's natural gas storage zone, then traveling up the well and into the air.
As a result, local residents are finding droplets of dark brown residue on their homes, vehicles, fish ponds and gardens. Some are collecting samples on dinner plates, then forwarding photographs of the material to their lawyers.
On Dec. 21, the company posted an update on the massive gas leak that began Oct. 23, pointing out that it was spewing mostly methane, which is not considered to be toxic. It also acknowledged that some residents had asked about "dark brown spots on their property."
"We sampled it and, according to our retained toxicologist and medical expert," the company said, "the residue contained heavier hydrocarbons (similar to motor oil) but does not pose a health risk."
The company has offered to provide cleaning services and reimburse property owners for cleanup costs.
SoCal Gas expects to have the leak fixed in about three months. Until then, the company is paying to relocate and house thousands of residents and pets sickened by fumes that health officials and independent experts say can cause headache, nosebleed, nausea and other short-term ailments but pose no long-term health risks.
On Monday, plaintiffs' attorneys sent a letter to state regulatory officials demanding that they issue an emergency order requiring SoCal Gas to stop all injections, including gas injections and water disposal injections, into the 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon field it acquired in the northern San Fernando Valley in 1972.
With capacity to store 86 billion cubic feet, it is one of the largest natural gas storage facilities in the United States.
The attorneys also demanded that state regulators "explain what is happening with the petroleum now surfacing."
"There is a complete lack of information in the well files," their letter says, "to show where the gas and petroleum migrates underground and the risk for creating sink holes and geysers."
Also on Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown met with members of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.
"We told him we needed him to organize an oversight group of regulatory agencies that will address the most pressing issues with one voice — now and in the future," Paula Cracium, president of the group, said.
Muse, the spokeswoman for SoCal Gas, said the new structure is one of several things the company is doing to "help minimize impacts to the community."