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Governor Declares State Of Emergency As Disastrous Methane Leak Continues

Crews from Southern California Gas and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 9. 2015.
Associated Press
Crews from Southern California Gas and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 9. 2015.
Governor Declares State Of Emergency As Disastrous Methane Leak Continues
Methane Leak ContinuesGUESTS:Ingrid Lobet, reporter, inewsource Gillian Wright, vice president, customer service, SoCalGas

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Slow-motion disaster is entering its third month in LA County a tremendous methane gas leak continues. The leak which is releasing 67,000 pounds of methane in our is at a natural gas storage facility located near the communities of Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, and Granada Hills. So far, seven efforts -- efforts have shut -- failed. The estimate now is a shut off in late February. Meanwhile, the owner of the field Southern California Gas has been ordered to relocate hundreds of residents from the nearby communities. Joining me is Ingrid Lobet. Chief investigative reporter with TPS -- KPBS partner Inewsource, which is been covering up. Thank you for having me. How did the sleek start? Don't know that yet Southern California Gas found the escape on October on October 23, "happen. So this has been going on since the 23rd. Is it looking at the same volume as it did in October? No. The board has contracted with a scientific aviation which is flying especially aircraft through the actual plan of methane gas that rises above the blown out well, and the amount initially were increasing, that's for several weeks, they have been decreasing to by about a third of the highest point. So the leak is losing steam? Yes. As they explained it, they were out there maximum pressure for this underground gas storage facility when it happened, and they have been drawing it down as fast as they can. Pressures been decreasing, and that has contributed to this decreasing rate of flow. And grid, I want to step back. Not many people are familiar with gas storage field. How do they store the gas, and why do they do that? Nor was I familiar with that. From the perspective a utility, they are an optimal place to store natural gas. It may not be true if you are a resident who lives near a gas storage facility. You may not share that view at all, but if you think about it from the perspective and somebody in the Berlin gas or utility person,. You have a place that held it underground and no longer has the oil in it, and has already mistreated the ability to hold the fluid and store it without it escaping except when you have a disaster like this. The total scope of this disaster so far, do we have an estimate on how much methane gas has been released since October 23? The last time the board issued its cumulative estimate. If you convert that to pounce, it was 145,000,000 pounds that would've been of as of December 23. That is roughly equivalent -- let me back up. This is obviously a tragedy for the people who live in Porter Ranch, and have to have their flies disrupted by having to leave their homes. But it is also of concern to all of this because Californians have said that they want to address climate change, and California government has been addressing climate change. Methane is a far more powerful heat trapping gas than the one most of us are more familiar with which is carbon dioxide. If we convert the amount of methane that has escaped as of December 23 from this massively, it's about the same amount of exhaust as would be admitted if you went to the gas station and drove the empty guesting 53 million times. So what are the hazards associated with cleaning up methane gas? It is going to dissipate and air. It does dissipate in the air rather ugly. It's my understanding that it's lighter than air. [ Indiscernible ] can verify that when she comes on. I am not sure the cleanup exactly will be the question. It is more how fast can they make it stop. What is death you were talking about the communities like her health, what has been the impact on them so far? Porter Ranch has really been straight -- has had a strong impact of the school district has decided that the children in the to elementary schools closest to the sleek will not finish their school in the schools this year. They will be moved to other schools. And, you have more than to thousand families have been temporarily relocated elsewhere and maybe close to to thousand families that are seeking relocation. I know that some of the residents are complaining about health effects that they are suffering having been living so close to the sleek, and sort of living with it and breathing it. What kind of symptoms are they describing? Have described nosebleeds, and headaches, and nausea, Smartbear pets have become ill with nosebleeds as well. They have been rather strong symptoms, and we are told that this is probably a result of something that is the natural gas so that we can smell it to detect a leak to ask the gas company to shut it off. I don't think we know that for sure. We will find out more. I know you just gave us the comparison when filling your gas tank, is there any estimate of how this might be sitting back California's carbon emissions goals? We have some of the most ambitious carbon emissions goals in the country, and the sounds as though this is a pretty big deal. Is a big deal for California's climate goals. Governor Brown had announced long ago that he hoped we could reduce emissions of the same gas methane by 40% in the coming years. I think it is fair to say that this has blown a whole through that goal -- at least for this year. FFE about the goal for 2016. I cut out much smaller efforts to even reduce a pounder Two escaping various industrial plants and agricultural our landfills across the state. This is a whole other ballpark, so to speak. I want to thank Ingrid Lobet with Inewsource. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Joining us now is Gillian Wright. She is vice president of customer service with Southern California Gas. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. Let's talk about the field temps to stop the leak and what might happen next. What are the experts trying to do that hasn't been working? From the inning is to discover -- from the beginning when we discovered the leak, you standard procedure. Pumping fluids into the well to create a column of fluid heavy and have to overcome the gas coming up. This is the most common procedure, and is effective nearly all of the time. Experience with this well unfortunately has been but that method has not worked. So, we have made seven attempts something different combinations of fluid with ever heavier -- with other heavier material, and we actually had a backup plan all along, which was to also drilling a relief well. The drilling of the real -- relief well started on December 4. That will allow us to pump fluids three Plainville, and we are confident that that should allow us to stop the leak. Did you know why the standard method hasn't worked? Is there anything specific about this particular rupture that is defining the standard method of plugging it? We don't really know why the fluid pumping has not worked with as well. I will say, we brought in the world experts, boots and put to help control the late. This is a very unusual circumstance. It is not something that we have seen before and it's not something they had encountered either. Hypothesize that it has to do with the nature and placement of the leak itself, but at this point, until we were able to investigate the cause after the leak is stopped, we really can't judge by these methods have not been successful. Was there an emergency plan is a leak had developed this field? Did you know what you would do if indeed something like this did happen? This particularly is highly unusual, but we have both safety and emergency plans. The discovery of the leak and response followed our planning process in terms of, the first notified the appropriate regulatory authorities, and we took immediate action to do the fluid pumping activity, which is the normal response to this kind of a situation to any leak on a well. Then, we follow the procedures of escalating, notifying additional agencies once we discovered the complexity of the leak and bringing in outside experts. Have been following the plan. It is a very technically challenging situation, but most important thing is to secure the safety of the sites, and the safety of the employees immediately. Gillian Wright, deeply of customer service at Southern California Gas. What about the rain? That have any effect on the plan or will it have any effect on the rain? The brain is actually helpful particularly because it will help reduce the [ Indiscernible ], which are the smelly substances that are causing the problems and discomfort in the community. Brain will actually reduce the were captains in the air. As it enters the ground, it will help them be observed in the ground, rather than emerging up to the air. Definitely help the odor problem. Otherwise, it should not really have an effect. It will not affect our work on the relief well, and we have secured the leaking well site and prevent drainage and protection for water overrun so that we won't have any more issues from the rain. I know Southern California Gas has been active and actually has been ordered to get more active in trying to locate -- reload -- relocate people who have been affected by this methane leak. Have you been doing to try to find new residences for people who can't stand to live this close to the mouth of -- massive methane leak? This is been a very large scale effort it is one that is unique in our experience, but also in the people that we have called on for experience. The upright in over 19 relocation agencies, including to travel agencies to assist us in identifying and placing people in housing. We are now reaching out to realtors and short-term rental associations, such as [ Indiscernible ] and Holloway to help identify properties. We have put together a large scale effort to bring residences in, to provide them with reimbursement for meal and transportation expenses, to take care of their pets, and we are providing also community information. Capital resource center available to assist residents with questions and the relocation process and reimbursement process. I will tell you that in the beginning of this, No idea of the size and scale of the effort that we would be amounting now, but now have over 30 people working here on my site. 19 agencies are supporting, and we continue to expand and grow as we need to. How many people have you helped relocate at this point? As of today, the of to thousand 540 families relocated. The of another 1800 families and process to be relocated. One of the questions I asked Ingrid was about the nature of these gas storage field. I don't think a lot of people are familiar with it. She answered that, but the gas field the side of his rupture, are there gas fields in San Diego? No, there are not. Okay. I guess we can breathe more easily on that side. Weatherby efforts to stop this late, or will you wait for that relief well to be finished? We are actually working right now on gas capture solution as well. In addition to the relief well, which is on schedule, have killed over 1 mile in depth as of this morning, and we are also -- the gas capture solutions will be intended to get some of the -- capture some of the guests that's leaking and redirect it. From the intent to do is filter it through active carbon filtration, which will remove the [ Indiscernible ], and to incinerated, which will reduce the admissions, because it converts it to methane to carbon dioxide. That solution is in process right now. Have just submitted -- completed the plans, and are very optimistic about is something that we will be able to do. Okay. I have to end it there. We have just been announced that Jerry Brown -- Governor Jerry Brown has an emergency. I want to thank Gillian Wright for Southern California Gas. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you, very much.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency to help with efforts to quell a calamitous methane gas leak near Porter Ranch in Los Angeles County.

A representative from Southern California Gas, which owns the natural gas storage field where the leak occurred, told KPBS Midday Edition the company has relocated 2,450 families who live near the field and has 1,800 families waiting to be relocated.

The gas is not toxic, but the odor additive in it has made some ill. Residents report nose bleeds, headaches and nausea.

Ingrid Lobet, a reporter with KPBS news partner inewsource, has been covering the story. She said the amount of methane that has poured into the atmosphere is the equivalent of using up 53 million tanks of gas.

Attempts to stop the leak have so far failed. SoCalGas, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, has tried several methods to stem the gas flow. The company even called in Boots and Coots Services, a division of Haliburton that specializes in blown-out wells. They couldn't stop the leak.

"It's not something that we've seen before and not something that they've really seen either," said Gillian Wright, vice president of customer service with SoCalGas. Boots and Coots Services is considered the foremost expert in fixing gas leaks.

Wright said SoCalGas followed standard procedures — alerting authorities and pumping liquid into the well to block the flow of methane when the leak began Oct. 23. At that time, 67,000 pounds of the climate-changing gas spewed into the air each hour. The leak has slowed somewhat, and new efforts are underway to reach the leak and shift the gas to other pipelines.

Wright told KPBS Midday Edition work on a relief well is on schedule, reaching more than a mile underground as of Wednesday. Wright said SoCalGas is also taking steps to capture the methane leaking out of the well. The plan would divert the methane through a carbon filter to remove the smell and then burn off the gas to reduce the leak's effect on the environment.

The event, now the worst gas leak in California history, is reminiscent in some ways of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which disgorged some 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico until it was finally capped after three difficult months.

There are no natural gas storage fields in San Diego County, Wright said.