A massive underground natural gas leak in an underground storage field near the pricey Porter Ranch area in Los Angeles is making nearby residents ill, both physically and mentally. Southern California Gas, after several weeks of trying, has not been able to stop the leak and has called in big guns Boots and Coots to drill an intercept well then fill everything with concrete. By all accounts, the leak was not due to negligence. Rather SoCal Gas followed all the rules scrupulously and is known for being cautious and careful. The problem, it is now clear, was inadequate regulation from decades ago when the wells were drilled.
It’s an old well, as are many in the area. Back then, regulations did not require areas outside the pipe to be filled with concrete up to the top. Had that been done, it would have prevented the leak. And insanely, regulations allowed a safety valve at 8,000 feet to be removed and it was. So the gas is just gushing out.
Nearby residents have been evacuated to temporary homes paid for by the gas company. Some complain of constant headaches, rashes, blurred vision and more. One class action suit has been filed with more certainly coming. There are dozens of old wells in the Porter Ranch area, and no assurance other wells won’t leak. This makes selling the 4,000 sq ft homes in the area difficult or impossible.
Gas leaks are not uncommon, and it took a couple weeks for this one to become news. When Anderle heard about it, in early November, she pulled up the well record on a state website. The file dates back to when the well was drilled in 1953. As she looked it over, she zeroed in on a piece of equipment 8,451 feet underground called a sub-surface safety valve.
If it were working properly, the gas company would be able to shut down the well. The fact that they hadn’t meant, to her, that it must be broken. The records indicated that it had not been inspected since 1976.
“That’s almost 40 years,” she says. “It’s a long time to leave it in the well.”
The truth is even worse. The valve was removed in 1979 because it was deemed not a hazard to do so.
As weeks went by and further efforts to stop the leak failed, it became clear that the company was dealing with an unprecedented catastrophe.