LA County declares emergency over Porter Ranch methane leak

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Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency over a massive natural gas leak above Porter Ranch Tuesday, but state officials balked at the idea.

The methane leaking from Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field has displaced nearly 2,000 Porter Ranch families so far. They've been driven out by the smell of an odorizing agent added to the natural gas, by illnesses such as nosebleeds and headaches, or by concerns for health risks.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, (R-Santa Clarita) and some residents had previously called on Governor Brown to declare a state emergency.

However, the leak does not fit the criteria for a state emergency declaration, said Dan Bout, assistant response director for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

That's because Southern California Gas Company has been paying most of the expenses related to the leak, including temporary housing and the cost of calling in experts to stem the leak, Bout said. Also, the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has the necessary oversight over the well and its operators. It would not need special authority from the state.

At Tuesday's meeting, Supervisor Michael Antonovich proposed the county declare an emergency, chastising SoCal Gas for allowing the rotten-egg-smelling vapor that has periodically rolled through Porter Ranch and driven people from their homes over Thanksgiving and other holidays.

County health officials have said short-term exposure to natural gas isn't likely to cause health problems. The sulphur-smelling odorant added to natural gas so it can be detected is called Mercaptans. That, too, carries a low risk, but is unpleasant to smell and can cause the headaches, nausea and other health problems.

More than 4,000 households have requested temporary housing to get away from the smell and potential health risks, Antonovich said. Of those nearly 1,700 have been relocated and another 1,200 applications were in progress.

In addition to paying for temporary housing, Southern California Gas Co has offered to install air purifiers in Porter Ranch homes affected by the gas leak.

In a conference call by state officials with reporters, Steve Bohlen of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said the state had found no reason to cite SoCal Gas for any violation. Michael Picker, president of the state Public Utilities Commission, said his agency was investigating whether SoCal Gas fully informed the public about activities on the vast, 3,600-acre gas storage site in the Santa Susana Mountains.

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