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An overhead photo of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad that is polluting Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles County. Photo taken Dec. 17, 2015.  (Photo: Earthworks/flickr/cc)

'Just More Hot Air'? Utility Co. says Methane-Spewing Porter Ranch Well Plugged

'This isn’t about if it happens again, but when,' says one resident. 

Andrea Germanos

Southern California Gas Co. announced Thursday that it had "temporarily controlled" the massive Porter Ranch gas leak, but the mood for many is nowhere near celebratory.

The months-long leak at the the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility forced thousands of residents to relocated, caused thousands of children to switch schools, and prompted many to complain of health effects including nausea, headaches, and nosebleeds. California Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency over the disaster, which, according to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), caused "at least 95,000 metric tons of potent, climate-forcing methane [to] have escaped—the same 20-year climate impact as burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline."

In a statement (pdf) released by the utility company, Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, and SoCalGas incident commander said, "We have temporarily controlled the natural gas flow from the leaking well and begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak."

It adds that the permanent seal of cement "could occur over the next several days."

The final word on permanency will come from California Department of Conservation.

"After Southern California Gas Company injects cement into the leaking well to form a permanent seal and that cement seal has dried, several tests mandated by the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources will be conducted to confirm the leaking well has been sealed. We will issue a public notice that the well is officially sealed only after this state verification and testing is complete," the body's Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall stated Thursday.

As many residents and environmental organizations see it, the dangers wont stop even when the seal is verified, as the dangers reach beyond this one well's failure.

Alexandra Nagy, southern California organizer with Food and Water Watch, called the utility's announcement "just more hot air."

"The Gas Company consistently underplays the risks and overplays their progress. Of course the community wants the leak stopped, but that doesn’t go far enough. This facility needs to be shut down permanently because it’s too dangerous and we can't trust this company to operate in good faith," she stated.

"Now comes the critical process of making sure this doesn’t happen again and holding the company accountable," said Tim O’Connor, California Oil & Gas Director at EDF.

And this one leak is merely a symptom of a larger problem, he said.

"This disaster is what happens when aging infrastructure meets lax oversight, and it’s just one example of a problem that is plaguing the oil and gas industry across the country. We need comprehensive national action to hold industry accountable for reducing these emissions and keeping disasters like this from happening again in the future."

Many residents are still wary as well.

"We have no idea what's really going on," Reza Sadeghi told the Los Angeles Times. "Who's to say it's not going to be fully [stopped] for three months?"

Jennifer Milbauer told the LA Daily News, "This isn’t about if it happens again, but when."

The ill-fated well is one of over 100 on the former oil field, which is now used as a gas storage facility.

"As long as we look up at those hills," she said, "we’ll always wonder, what’s behind them?"

David Donah, who lives in Porter Ranch with his wife and two children, told CNN, "So, I'm supposed to somehow tell my kids that they are safe with 114 ticking time bombs essentially up on the hill above their homes."

"You want to talk about mad, mad doesn't describe what I'm feeling."

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