U.S. senator calls for backup proof when gas leak sealed

By Brian Melley, Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called Friday for third-party air quality testing to confirm that a massive natural gas leak near Los Angeles has been permanently sealed and it's safe for residents to return home.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), holds a news conference with with affected residents at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch to discuss the effects of the devastating Aliso Canyon natural gas leak in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. The massive gas leak that spewed uncontrollably for nearly four months drove thousands of Los Angeles residents to pack up and leave their homes, while others rode it out. The well still needs to be permanently sealed and inspected by state regulators, a process that could take several days. But the announcement by Southern California Gas Co. marked a milestone in efforts to stop the leak first reported Oct. 23. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)


LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called Friday for third-party air quality testing to confirm that a massive natural gas leak near Los Angeles has been permanently sealed and it's safe for residents to return home.

Boxer met with residents of Porter Ranch who said they don't trust state and local agencies overseeing the plugging of a 16-week-long leak that drove residents from 6,400 homes.

"The residents I spoke to remain disturbed and unsettled in regards to the air quality within and outside of their homes," Boxer, D-California, wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown. "It is also discouraging to hear from them that they have very little faith in the air quality testing thus far."

Southern California Gas Co. said it controlled the leak Thursday, though the blown-out well still needs to be capped with cement.

The company released a time-lapse video Friday that revealed the invisible plume of methane through an infrared camera as the leak came to a halt.

Once state inspectors certify it is sealed and the air is clear, the utility only has to pay for seven more nights of lodging for residents who relocated to short-term housing. Those who rented apartments and houses can stay as late as April 30 if they have a lease.

The leak reported Oct. 23 at an old well in the utility's Aliso Canyon underground storage facility sent a plume of methane, visible by infrared camera, into the sky and blanketed San Fernando Valley suburbs with intermittent foul odors.

Residents complained of headaches, nausea and nose bleeds, though public health officials said they do not believe there will be long-term health problems. Benzene, a cancer-causing compound found in gas, spiked above normal levels more than a dozen times, but was not considered a significant threat, officials said.

Many residents concerned about their health and the value of their homes are skeptical of what the utility and public officials tell them and they want the gas facility — the largest of its kind in the West — shut down.

Boxer said she was pleased the leak appeared to be under control, but she wants residents to be confident they can return safely.

She asked Brown to back her call for third-party testing by another entity such the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to verify the air is safe.

A spokesman for state oil and gas regulators overseeing the operations wouldn't comment on whether the agency would seek third-party testing before declaring the well-sealed.

Donald Drysdale said that was speculative and the process regulators were relying on had been developed with independent experts.

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