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SoCal Gas asks court to block order to clean Porter Ranch homes

Porter Ranch Town Center, 2014. Some Porter Ranch residents are being relocated in light of a large, ongoing gas leak in the city.
Flickr/Clotee Allochuku
Porter Ranch Town Center.

Southern California Gas Co. says it is asking a court to throw out Los Angeles County's directive that the company pay to clean every home in a five-mile radius around the storage well that leaked natural gas for four months.

Last week, L.A. County's Department of Public Health directed SoCal Gas to "immediately and unconditionally" offer to provide "comprehensive cleaning" of thousands of homes in the Porter Ranch area, and to do so at its own expense for those residents who accept its offer.

The gas company is refusing to comply with the order, pointing to Public Health's conclusion last week that there is no long-term health risk in Porter Ranch homes.

It said that it would petition the court by Wednesday to reject the county directive.  

Public Health's indoor tests of 101 Porter Ranch homes detected very low levels of metals used in well drilling fluid, the department said last week. While they "can cause respiratory and skin irritation and could be contributing to symptoms reported by [Porter Ranch] residents" such as headaches and nausea, the metals "do not pose long-term health risks," according to Public Health's findings.

SoCal Gas says it has cleaned 198 homes and installed 38,000 air filtration systems in Porter Ranch homes, but because "it is safe for residents to be home in Porter Ranch and the surrounding community ... SoCal Gas is not offering cleaning to additional residents."

The company estimates that there are more than 65,000 households in the five-mile radius around the well that blew last October in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. Crews finally capped the leak in mid-February, four months after it erupted.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who represents and lives in Porter Ranch, took to the House floor Tuesday to criticize the gas company.

"SoCal Gas has decided to shortchange the residents who have evacuated," said Sherman.  The firm "is being penny wise and pound foolish," he said, arguing that the refusal to clean the interiors of more homes could lead to lawsuits down the road from residents who develop health problems.

The gas company and the county are still locked in another legal battle related to the Porter Ranch leak. They are fighting in court over how long SoCal Gas must pay for housing, food and gas for thousands of residents displaced by the leak. 

On Friday, the company will ask the judge hearing the case to end its obligation this weekend. The county contends that the arrangement should not end unless SoCal Gas implements the county's cleaning directive. 

Some 8,000 households relocated to temporary quarters at one point or another during the leak. The company says there are still 2,800 in the relocation program, and it is trying to ascertain the status of roughly 900 more households. SoCalGas says it has spent $76 million so far on the displaced.