The possibility of a catastrophic explosion prompted state regulators Saturday to delay efforts to capture and burn leaking natural gas that has sickened and displaced thousands of residents of Porter Ranch.
Mohsen Nazemi, deputy executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which was expected to approve the plan at a meeting Saturday, acknowledged that the idea was “very unusual” and somewhat untested.
The plan is now on hold until local fire officials and state and federal regulators have signed off, Nazemi said.
For more than two months, a damaged well at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility has been spewing noxious fumes and foul odors into nearby communities, raising health concerns.
To stop the leak, the company is drilling a relief well to the giant natural storage tank some 8,500 feet beneath the surface, but that isn’t expected to be finished until early February, at the earliest.
So officials, scrambling for a way to bring residents more immediate relief, came up with the plan to burn the gas.
Earlier this week, however, the state Public Utilities Commission expressed concerns that the damaged well could be vulnerable to a blowout, which would allow even greater release of environmentally damaging gases or cause an explosion.
A three-page letter from the PUC to the company included a warning that damage to the well system, which was subjected to two months of aggressive high-pressure pumping to try to plug the leak that began in October, might now permit air to mix with methane in a way that “could be catastrophic.
The decision to delay implementation of the plan to burn the gas was announced Saturday during a public meeting at Granada Hills Charter High School, where San Fernando Valley residents voiced their anger at company officials and AQMD regulators.
Instead of immediate relief, AQMD officials turned their attention to longer term measures, such as taking the stricken well permanently out of service, developing a new plan to notify people when an “air quality event” takes place and conducting a study to assess the health consequences of the leak.
The damaged well, known as SS25, is one of 115 on the massive reservoir, according to company officials.
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