Porter Ranch Gas Leak to Be Stopped Ahead of Schedule, Utility Says

A woman holds a sign at a public hearing before the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regarding a proposed stipulated abatement order to stop the massive natural gas leak, on Jan. 16, 2016, in Granada Hills, near Porter Ranch. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Southern California Gas Co. said this week that it has abandoned efforts to trap and burn the gas released by a huge natural gas leak in Los Angeles, but also said the 12-week-old leak should be stopped ahead of schedule -- by the end of February or sooner.

The burnoff plan is being abandoned over fears that it could not be done safely, SoCalGas, which is owned by Sempra Energy, said in a statement.

State regulators were scheduled to vote Wednesday on the plan, which had been intended to give quicker relief to residents suffering sickness and irritation because of the emissions. But the plan led to worries of explosions in the Porter Ranch neighborhood where the well is located.

"We do not feel the benefits outweigh the safety risks," company senior vice president Jimmie Cho said. "I’m not going to take any unnecessary safety risks."

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The rejected plan was composed of three parts: collecting gas in an open pipe positioned above the broken well, shunting it to a high-tech oven where the methane would be incinerated, and filtering what remains through a deep bed of charcoal.

Collecting the methane through an open pipe that was not securely connected to the wellhead was the risky part of the plan, Cho said.

The risk was that the methane -- which is safe from ignition at very low and very high concentrations -- might combine with air or other compounds and become more volatile.

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Meanwhile, SoCalGas continues to drill the relief well it began drilling in December. The company released a video explaining the process, noting that it is in Phase 5.