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LA Pol Wants Others in Gas Leak’s Wake Moved

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Los Angeles city councilman on Wednesday demanded that SoCalGas move people from other neighboring communities impacted by the massive methane gas leak at its underground natural gas facility.

So far, SoCalGas has offered temporary relocation to thousands of Porter Ranch residents. But councilman Mitch Englander says that communities in Granada Hills, Chatsworth and Northridge have also been impacted by the leak.

The District 12 councilman submitted a motion demanding that SoCalGas recognize and extend their relocation efforts to include the three neighborhoods.

In a phone interview, Englander said his office had received dozens of calls from people in those communities.

"This plume of toxic chemicals doesn't respect zip codes and has certainly bled into other communities that are being impacted," Englander said. "What they're sharing with us is that they are not getting the same response in terms of relocation or air filtration systems, and so we want to make sure SoCalGas is responsive to all of the reasonable requests that are coming in."

The Republican politician said he expected the motion would go before the full council early next week for a vote. If SoCalGas refuses to comply with the request the city could take legal action to enforce the measure, he said.

The leak was first reported on Oct. 23 at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Northridge.

The well has spewed pollution comparable to daily emissions of 7 million cars or six coal-fired power plants. It is still releasing almost 1,200 tons of greenhouse pollution in to the atmosphere per day, according to court records.

The Aliso Canyon facility provides energy to 21 million people and 500 communities and has the capacity for 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Of the 111 natural gas wells at Aliso Canyon, 48 were drilled in 1953.

SoCalGas insists that natural gas is not harmful but contains foul-smelling odorants used to detect gas leaks. The company is offering temporary relocation to Porter Ranch residents, and has offered to install plug-in air purifiers to families who choose to stay put.

Englander estimates that 12,000 have left the Porter Ranch community, based on an average of four people per household. The councilman's spokeswoman Stephanie Saporito said only SoCalGas knows exactly how many people have fled the community.

Some in the neighboring communities want SoCalGas to shut down the underground storage facility and residents have accused the energy company, owned by Sempra Energy, of not doing enough to contain the leak or prevent it in the first place.

Residents have disputed the company's claim that the chemicals are not harmful, saying that the odorant methyl mercaptan is toxic. Benzene, a carcinogen, has been detected in the air and residents have complained of chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, nosebleeds and headaches.

More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in connection with the leak, including one filed by the LA city attorney and joined by LA County.

On Monday, a basketball academy and mortgage lending company filed a class action in San Diego Superior Court for economic losses.

"Plaintiffs and class members have been left to deal with devastating financial losses that are continuing to accrue," the lawsuit states.

The SoCal Hoops Basketball Academy says that one month before the leak was detected it had entered into a contract with the Porter Ranch Community School and purchased $15,000 worth of equipment for a training program at the school.

The school's 1,100 students have since been relocated to a different school.

"SoCal Basketball Academy has lost considerable revenue and goodwill as a result," the 22-page lawsuit says.

First American Wholesale Lending says that six escrows were canceled last year and it has "witnessed a precipitous decline in new lending opportunities since the gas leak began."

Its attorney Raymond Boucher did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The leaking 61-year-old well is missing a sub-surface safety valve that SoCalGas could have used to shut the well down after the leak was detected, LA County supervisor Michael Antonovich said at a public meeting this past Saturday. It has been alleged that SoCalGas and regulators knew as early as 1979 that the valve needed to be replaced.

SoCalGas executive Rodger Schwecke has said the valve was never replaced because the company did not consider the well "critical" and the parts were "not easy" to find, according to court records.

"They have a beautiful facility," former Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources field engineer Anneliese Anderle told LA Weekly last month. "It's gleaming. They have great roads and well-marked pipelines. Everything's painted. But just below the surface, it's junk."

Englander's motion comes after California state senators said they would propose emergency and long-term legislative action to respond to the environmental crisis.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

On its website, SoCalGas says that as of Monday it had drilled 7,300 feet to create a relief well. The natural gas reservoir is 8,000 feet underground. The energy company says it plans to intercept the well and then pump in heavy mud and fluids to plug it.

Previous attempts to "kill" the well by injecting mud and fluids have failed. The company says it may take another two months to seal the well.

SoCalGas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said the company has the "same urgency to get this leak stopped as quickly as safety will allow," and shares Englander's concerns.

"We are working hard to both stop the leak and to address our neighbors' concerns. We are providing relocation services for residents who wish to remove themselves from the leak's odor and have established a claims process for those who feel they may have suffered harm or injury. Beyond that, we are not going to comment on the legal action and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process," Lloyd wrote in an email.

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