Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles County, partial view. Companies often store natural gas underground in summer, then distribute it for winter heating. Photo: SoCal Gas
Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles County, partial view. Photo/SoCal Gas

The massive gas leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field above Porter Ranch that since October has forced an estimated 15,000 residents to flee the community has been halted, SoCalGas officials declared today.

[one_half][box type=”shadow this-matters”]
The leaking well has spewed more than 100,000 pounds of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the air

“We have … begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak.” said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, and SoCalGas incident commander. “I was very glad we achieved this for the community and our customers. And I am most pleased that we did it without any safety incidents with the workers who have been working on this from day one.”

Cho told the Los Angeles News Group earlier this week that controlling the broken well was the first step in kill process.

The team of well control experts from Boots & Coots intercepted the base of the leaking well, SS 25, via a relief well today and began pumping heavy fluids to temporarily control the flow of gas out of the leaking well.

The well kill process also includes injecting cement into SS 25 via the relief well and then conducting a series of tests to make sure that gas is no longer seeping up from the well.

After 111 days, the gas company announced it will continue to work in coordination with the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and other agencies during the process of permanently sealing the well.

Cho said that process will take several days and that it could possibly happen sometime next week.

Officials at the gas company, which is a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, signaled they were getting close to a solution when they announced there would be an eight-day return home deadline rather than the original time frame announced earlier.

Area residents and leaders reacted to the announcement Thursday afternoon.

“With so many lives affected over the past four months, the news of finally stopping the leak will allow this community to begin breathing a healthy sigh of relief,” L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, whose district includes Porter Ranch, said in a statement. “The next several phases are critical to ensuring the capped well is certified, the entire facility is safe, and this community can begin to recover.”

The leak, discovered on Oct. 23, spewed more than 100,000 pounds of methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere above the north San Fernando Valley community, the state said. It prompted a voluntary community evacuation and the Los Angeles Unified School District to temporarily relocate nearly 2,000 elementary school students. The gas company covered the expense in both cases.

The announcement came after a relief well was erected to the east and below SS 25, which is near the summit of Oat Mountain. Its shaft is more than 8,600 feet deep.

The leak was in the well casing about 500 to 600 feet below the surface. The casing will be removed and be examined as part of Blade’s probe.

SS 25 will eventually be taken out of service.

Many residents complained of ill effects like nausea and bloody noses they said were related to compounds in the gas that give it the rotten egg odor.

SoCalGas gave up to $7,000 in relocation expenses to families who left the community. At one point residents from more than 5,000 households were in temporary housing.

The leak and a communication breakdown between the company and the community outraged residents and elected officials.

Gas company executives said they believe the leak started on a Friday in late October, and the crew at the well site focused on trying to stop it and failed to tell the utility’s communications and customer service unit.

The following Monday, the company began notifying residents via letter, but some did not receive that mailing until the following week.

The first attempt to kill the well was made on Oct. 24, by forcing fluids down the SS 25 shaft. That attempt failed, and SoCalGas contacted Halliburton’s Boots & Coots, the company formed in the late 1970s by Asger “Boots” Hansen and Ed “Coots” Matthews, veterans of Red Adair Service and Marine Company.

That company extinguished several hundred oil-well fires in Kuwait during the Gulf War. And in 1974, Adair was brought in to put out an oil-well fire in the field above Porter Ranch.

Special well-kill equipment was then brought in from the Gulf Coast, and Boots & Coots made six other attempts to kill SS 25, the last in late December, but none were successful.

Gov. Jerry Brown finally declared a state of emergency regarding the gas leak in early January.

Stopping the leak has proved to be a technical challenge.

There are 115 wells at Aliso Canyon, and some — like SS 25 — date back to the early 1950s. The facility under the Santa Susana Mountains is a sandstone formation, and the gas is stored in the rock’s pores.

The gas is injected under pressure, and the state ordered the company to draw out as much as possible. The facility — the biggest west of the Mississippi River — can hold 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and there were 77 billion cubic feet in storage when the leak erupted.

In late January, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered that the withdrawals be stopped when there was 15 billion cubic feet left in the field.

The leak raised concerns among environmental groups and residents about the safety of storage facilities like Aliso Canyon.

“The leak may be stopped, but huge questions remain about the risks of gas-storage wells across California. State oil officials have left people across the state at risk from these unsafe wells, and the Aliso Canyon facility is clearly just too dangerous to stay open. It’s appalling that the state’s new emergency rules for gas storage are actually weaker than the industry’s own suggested safety practices,” Maya Golden-Krasner, an L.A.-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement

The Environmental Defense Fund said the leak exposed failings in the regulatory system.

“Now comes the critical process of making sure this doesn’t happen again and holding the company accountable,” Tim O’Connor, the California oil and gas director at Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “SoCalGas can’t respond with its checkbook alone. It has to take care of the neighbors it has harmed and take enough methane out of the air to make up for the damage this leak has caused.

“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.”

inewsource is partnering with the Los Angeles Daily News to cover the methane leak near Porter Ranch.