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SoCal Gas took days to inform residents, local agencies of methane leak

Southern California Gas Co. notified state regulators the same day it detected a leaking well in its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field above Porter Ranch in October, state officials confirm. But it took the company days to notify local government officials and nearby residents.

The leak was discovered Friday, October 23rd. SoCal Gas on that day reported, "what appeared to be a small, routine gas leak at the well," said Teresa Schilling, assistant director for the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. State law requires leaks in oil and gas fields to be reported to regulators "promptly."

By that time, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander had heard from his Porter Ranch constituents about the gas leak, but got no word from SoCal Gas until Oct. 26.

"Several days went by, and we still had not been contacted by the Gas Co.," Englander said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and county Supervisor Michael Antonovich separately criticized the company's tardiness in reporting the leak to their offices. The city has sued the company, and the county is looking into joining the lawsuit as co-plaintiff.

Residents began calling the 9-1-1 emergency line, the fire department and air quality officials a day after the leak erupted, complaining about the smell of a gas odorant called mercaptans. They also reported getting headaches and nosebleeds.

Resident Matt Pakucko had made such calls and was told of a gas leak. He called the Gas Company early on Monday Oct. 26, and said a call center worker told him the situation was normal.

"She looked at her little thing and said, 'nope, we have no leaks; everything's normal, but they are just releasing gas, which they do now and then, normal maintenance,'" Pakucko said.

Pakucko is president of Save Porter Ranch, and environmental nonprofit that was formed last year to oppose installation of a dozen new oil wells proposed by Termo Oil Co. for the Aliso Canyon oil and gas field.  He and the organization are joining several residents in suing SoCal Gas to shut down its 3,600-acre natural gas storage field.

Sean O'Rourke, a member of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, said he would give the gas company a middling grade for its outreach to the community.

"I'd give them a C-plus. They've been slow, they haven't been completely transparent or forthcoming," O'Rourke said. But that slow start has been tempered by the company's later efforts to provide temporary housing and participate in community forums, he said..

Southern California Gas Co. officials did not respond to questions submitted Dec. 8 about whether call center workers misinformed the public when they called with concerns or about the specific dates when local authorities were notified.

At a news conference Wednesday, Jimmie Cho, senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity, said the company notified the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources the same day the leak was detected.

"We made all the notifications that were required," Cho said. "We took all appropriate measures in the sequence of events that were appropriate for what we were observing, and we're still in that process."'

Gilliam Wright, SoCal Gas vice president of customer service, said the "Notifications were done according to the required schedules and generally all notifications were done within two days of the discovery of the leak."

The company waited until Wednesday, Oct. 28 to inform the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. In late November, county health authorities ordered SoCal Gas to pay to relocate affected residents to temporary housing. So far, some 3,000 households have inquired about relocation, and at least 700 families have received temporary housing.