LA-area residents implore officials to approve plan to mitigate gas leak

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Residents of a southern California community on Saturday implored air quality officials to force a gas company to take steps to mitigate a natural gas leak that has reportedly caused health issues and damaged property since it began three months ago.

Porter Ranch residents Danielle Michaels (L) and Michelle Theriault (R) hold signs outside Los Angeles City Hall during a demonstration ahead of the testimony before the Los Angeles City Council on the ongoing natural gas leak in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, California December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

The five-member hearing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District fielded comments from residents of the Los Angeles’ Porter Ranch neighborhood, home to about 30,000 people, near a Southern California Gas Co natural gas storage well where a underground methane leak was discovered Oct. 23.

“It’s in my house, it’s in my furniture, it’s in our bodies,” resident Maureen Capra said.

Capra was one of several residents who testified in front of the board, which was considering a measure to require the company to install an abatement system to siphon off and incinerate some of the spewing methane.

Capra said the leak has caused her family members to deal with severe nose bleeds, respiratory issues and other health problems.

“It’s killing us. You need to do something,” she said.

The hearing was devoted to public comment on the abatement order. The board plans to reconvene on Jan. 16 to hear arguments from air quality management district and gas company officials and then take a vote on the order.

Residents say the stench of gas fumes has sickened scores of them. At least 2,850 households from the Porter Ranch community at the edge of the Aliso Canyon facility have been temporary relocated.

“We know have you been under an extraordinary hardship for too long,” said Edward Camarena, chairman of the air quality management district.

Officials from Southern California Gas, a division of Sempra Energy, said they expect to stop the leak within the next month or two. It is trying to stop it by drilling a relief well to reach a damaged pipeline, then injecting fluids and heavy mud into it.

“This is So Cal Gas’s highest priority,” Robert Wyman, an attorney for the gas company, told the hearing adding the company supports the order. He did not address the residents’ complaints about illnesses.

The leak, which state officials have said accounted at its peak for a fourth of California’s 20 million metric tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions from methane, is believed to have been caused by a broken injection-well pipe several hundred feet beneath the surface of the 3,600-acre (1,457-hectare) field.

Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday declared the gas leak an emergency, calling for alternatives to stop the underground leak if existing efforts fail.

Reporting By Phoenix Tso; Editing by Brendan O’Brien and Alistair Bell