Official: Porter Ranch Gas Leak Might Be Sealed as Early as Next Week

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The boundary of Southern California Gas Co.'s property where the Aliso Canyon storage field is located. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

The leaking natural gas storage well near the Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch might be capped earlier than originally anticipated, a state official told residents on Thursday.

Wade Crowfoot, an adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, said the utility that owns the well is expected to begin the final phase of the fix on Monday, the Associated Press reports. The Southern California Gas Co. is currently drilling a relief well to intercept the leaking well — and once it reaches its destination, workers should be able to seal up the leak in about five days.

That would mean the leaking well would officially be killed by the end of next week, two weeks ahead of the SoCalGas target of the end of February.

But there are some caveats. First, an "early" fix to the leaking well is hardly a fast one. The well has been leaking since late October, so a fix by the end of next week would mean it was releasing uncontrolled quantities of methane gas for 16 weeks.

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And declaring success next week is hardly certain. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, the timeline is "fraught with variables."

The leaking well, located at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, has been spewing large quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere since late October. The gas company has been accused of negligence over the leak, and faces criminal charges and civil lawsuits.

The leak can't be seen with the naked eye but is visible using infrared cameras:

The gas leak also contains trace elements of other substances, such as the carcinogen benzene, as well as odorants that are added to help people detect gas leaks through smell. The odorants are known to cause headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments, but SoCalGas and state officials have said the leak shouldn't cause any long-term health issues.

That hasn't comforted many residents of the nearby neighborhood of Porter Ranch. Thousands of people have been relocated because of the leak — and many say they are deeply concerned about possible health impacts of their exposure to the leak.

On NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon, Kelly McEvers talks to one Porter Ranch family who has left the neighborhood. They're so worried, they don't want to move back once the leak is capped.

"Even though you can't see the gas, it's there. And that's the saddest part ... people don't understand it," says Christine Katz, who is concerned about her family's health after she says her 2-year-old daughter got sick and doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. "Because it's not a mudslide, it's not an earthquake — you just don't see the devastation, but it's there."

Another Porter Ranch resident, Dhruv Sareen, hasn't relocated his family at all. Sareen, a research scientist who studies stem cells at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says he looked at the data and wasn't alarmed.

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