SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency Wednesday over a methane gas leak that has forced hundreds of Los Angeles-area residents to leave their homes.
Brown said in a statement that, after the "prolonged and continuing duration" of the leak that began Oct. 23, he had decided to issue a proclamation declaring the environmental disaster an emergency.
As well as outlining the Brown administration's efforts to seal the leak, an executive order also introduces measures to protect the public and "strengthen oversight of gas storage facilities," Brown's office said.
In a statement, LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who has been pushing for the emergency declaration for weeks, called the gas leak "one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the history of California."
"The residents of the San Fernando Valley have suffered too much for too long. I want to thank Gov. Jerry Brown for listening and responding to the thousands of residents affected by this catastrophe and for ensuring that the Southern California Gas Company bears the full financial burden," Englander said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also called the situation an "ongoing environmental disaster" and said the city was "doing everything in its power to help residents cope" with the leak's effects.
"I spoke with Gov. Brown to ask for an emergency declaration, and I'm grateful that he acted today. The order will bring the additional resources and focus we need - to get people back into their homes, restore confidence in the safety of this community, and begin rebuilding quality of life in the neighborhoods affected by the gas leak," Garcetti said in a statement.
The storage field's owner, Southern California Gas, is already facing legal action including a lawsuit filed by the city of Los Angeles.
Plaintiffs say millions of cubic feet of methane and other toxic chemicals including benzene have leaked from a natural gas well at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon storage field north of the Porter Ranch neighborhood in northwestern San Fernando Valley. Residents have suffered headaches, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and nausea.
This week, an "oily mist" was reported drifting from the storage facility over the Porter Ranch neighborhood.
SoCalGas has offered temporary relocation to thousands of Porter Ranch residents and says the leak could take four months to fix.
Brown said the Governor's Office of Emergency Service will be present on-site at Aliso Canyon to coordinate with local, state and federal officials.
A division of the California Department of Conservation will investigate the leak and monitor the energy company's efforts alongside a panel of experts.
Brown noted that in November and December the state ordered SoCalGas to stop injecting gas into the well and to propose alternatives to plug the leak. Officials are investigating the "cause and any possible violations" and associated costs in fixing the gas leak, the governor said.
"The California Air Resources Board is measuring the leak rate and estimating total methane emissions over the duration of the leak and is using ground-level monitoring, specially equipped airplanes and satellite information to provide updates of emissions," Brown said.
Brown toured the site and met with Porter Ranch residents on Monday. In a letter to SoCalGas in December, he told the company to do more to make sure the environmental disaster is contained.
An online information center at the SoCalGas website boasts "Safety is our number-one priority," and maintains that while the smell is "unpleasant" the leak "does not pose an imminent threat to public safety."
"The well is located in an isolated, mountain area more than a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than the closest home or public area," the company's website states. "Scientists agree natural gas is not toxic and that its odorant is harmless at the minute levels at which it is added to natural gas. In outdoor locations such as this, natural gas quickly dissipates into the air, greatly reducing the possibility for ignition and further diluting the gas as it reaches the public. The human nose is amazingly sensitive and can detect the smell of the odorant at levels much lower than any level of concern."
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Air Resources Board, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the California Energy Commission are among the agencies involved in the effort to stop the leak, offer oversight, and protect workers and the public, Brown said.
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