A group of Porter Ranch residents are suing Southern California Gas Co. and a state regulatory agency over a gas leak at a nearby storage facility that has gone on for more than a month.
Residents have been complaining of health problems, including nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, since the leak began at the Aliso Canyon facility on Oct. 23.
The leak from an underground well is releasing large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas. It is also releasing mercaptans, odorants added to the gas to aid in leak detection. County health officials said the mercaptans could produce the symptoms being reported by the Porter Ranch residents.
A group of residents and the local advocacy group Save Porter Ranch filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, alleging that the company and state officials had been negligent in allowing the leak to occur and had shown "willful disregard for public health" through their "failure to abate the harm after more than a month."
Attorney R. Rex Parris, who is representing the plaintiffs -- and is mayor of the city of Lancaster in northern Los Angeles County -- said Wednesday that the plaintiffs are concerned not only about the chemicals being released into the air, but about potential contamination of the water table.
He said they want the gas company to stop injecting gas into the underground wells for storage and for the state to require the utility to end the practice.
Parris acknowledged that doing so could lead to gas shortages in the region.
“It’s a difficult problem for the natural gas company, but it is their problem,” he said. “It shouldn’t be borne on the back of the Porter Ranch population.”
The gas company first tried to stop the leak by pumping fluid into the well, but now is preparing to drill another well to seal off the leaking well and plug it permanently with cement. That process could take months.
In the meantime, the company is paying to temporarily relocate hundreds of residents affected by the leak, under orders by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages and attorney's fees, as well as an injunction that would include "provisions for further ongoing monitoring of plaintiffs’ property and potential remediation by defendant."
Representatives for the gas company and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources said they do not comment on pending litigation.
Also Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said a new report by county public health officials had concluded that since the gas leak has continued for so long, emissions levels could produce "significant long-term health effects, including cancer."
Antonovich said the report had identified benzene as the "chemical of greatest concern," because it is known to cause cancer. It also cited concerns about radon, another known carcinogen.