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.
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.
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.
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.
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