A relief well is within 20 feet of reaching the leaking Southern California Gas Co. well in Aliso Canyon that released tons of methane into the air and led to the dislocation of thousands of residents, regulatory and company officials said Monday.
Once they can access the leak — which is about 1.6 miles below ground — crews will cap the well with cement.
"We are very close," said Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for Southern California Gas' parent company, Sempra Energy. "However, there are still several significant steps ahead, including pumping fluids into the well to control the gas, then pumping cement to seal the leaking well."
The company has tried at least seven times to plug the well, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
"The gas company, hopefully, can actually kill the well in this attempt," Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander said.
"In any case, they are 110 days behind their own schedule for fixing this crisis," he said, "and 30 years behind in technology needed to monitor all of their operations in this field."
Once the well is intercepted, experts will prepare to begin pumping fluid and mud into it to kill the source of the natural gas leak, officials said.
Next, cement will be pumped in. It will take time, however, for the cement to cure and dry, and tests will be conducted by state regulators to determine whether it has completely plugged the well — one of 115 natural gas injection wells in the 80-year-old, 3,600-acre Aliso field that services 11 million customers in the Los Angeles area.
Noxious additives in the gas, which began leaking Oct. 23, have prompted hundreds of complaints of nausea, respiratory problems and nosebleeds; residents in 5,000 households in Porter Ranch and surrounding communities have sought temporary shelter elsewhere.
"We will do what is reasonable and technically sound from a safety, engineering, drilling and well-control standpoint to intercept and seal the well as quickly as possible," Gilbride said. "The timing is dependent on a number of conditions, and we cannot predict exactly when each step will be done. We will provide an update once the gas is controlled."