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Porter Ranch family files lawsuit over gas leak that has displaced hundreds

Porter Ranch family files lawsuit over gas leak that has displaced hundreds
Parent Rocio Arreola joins other parents with their students to protest at the corner of Tampa and Rinaldi streets in Porter Ranch Friday morning Devember 11, 2015 as parents of students from Castlebay Lane Charter and Porter Ranch Elementary schools want Los Angeles Unified School District to move the schools to protect the health of their kids. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A Porter Ranch family has filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Co. and Sempra Energy for failing to relocate the family or address their medical needs that they allege are the result of an underground natural gas leak that has sickened and displaced hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents.

The family of Brian and Christine Katz filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging negligence and seeking compensation for their financial losses. The couple's five children are also named in the complaint.

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The lawsuit states that the couple's youngest child, "2-year-old daughter Ava, has been experiencing the worst symptoms from the gas leak exposure. She suffered from some type of seizure and 'spent four nights in ICU for 'upper respiratory symptoms' with no prior health problem. [Ava] is now listless, suffering from persistent rashes, and painful nausea."

The complaint also notes that the family's two dogs are sick as well.

"The scariest part about all of this is we do not know the long term health effects this high exposure level poses to the Porter Ranch community," attorney R. Rex Parris, whose law firm is one of several representing the plaintiffs, including another firm that counts Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on its team.

A spokesman for Southern California Gas could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer announced he was suing SoCal Gas over its handling of the incident.

Also, state regulators on Thursday ordered the company to provide detailed plans and schedules for how it will plug the leak. The utility has come under fire for its handling of the leak, drawing a citation from air quality regulators over the odor and sharply worded rebukes from officials across the region.

But Steve Bohlen, outgoing head of the state's oil and gas regulatory division, said SoCal Gas has fully complied with previous orders issued by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The division's latest directive, he said, simply "puts in writing some issues that we are directing the company to do what we have discussed with them and they have agreed to."

SoCal Gas detected the leak Oct. 23 at its Aliso Canyon facility in a pipe casing a few hundred feet below the surface of a well. Gas has been flowing into the ground and seeping up, generating a rotten odor and reports of nausea, headaches and nosebleeds among residents of nearby Porter Ranch. Hundreds of residents have relocated as a result.

Public health officials have said that the gas being released is mostly methane, which is not dangerous and does not pose long-term health risks. But residents have criticized the gas company, calling it slow to act.

After unsuccessful attempts to plug the leak by pumping fluid into the well, the company is now trying to drill a relief well. Workers would then seal off the leaking well and plug it permanently with concrete.

Thursday's emergency order requires SoCal Gas to "prepare and deliver" an "updated detailed schedule for the completion of relief well" by Monday. It also calls for a schedule outlining when other tasks will be completed in preparation for a second relief well.

The utility must also produce a list of the ways it could "plug and abandon" the leaking well once a relief well is in place, and must work "expeditiously and aggressively" to capture as much leaking gas as possible.

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Bohlen said it did not appear as though SoCal Gas was guilty of any violations in connection with the leak, but added that the division would do an "in-depth analysis once the leak is closed."

"All of our energies are going into getting the well sealed," he said. "This is not a simple leak at all."

Citing safety concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration has temporarily banned low-flying planes above a section of Porter Ranch affected by the leak.

The restriction applies to planes flying below 2,000 feet and is expected to remain in place through at least March, according to an FAA document issued Wednesday.

Twitter: @bymattstevens

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