Gov. Jerry Brown today declared a state of emergency regarding the natural gas leak above Porter Ranch that prompted the temporary relocation of two Los Angeles Unified schools.
Brown’s proclamation marshals state resources to respond to the methane leak, which was discovered Oct. 23 at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. The company has relocated more than 2,000 families who have complained of persistent headaches, nausea and other health problems caused by mercaptan, a chemical odorant added to the gas that allows it to be detected.
An increasing number of health complaints, as well as teacher and student absences, caused a significant disruption in instructional programs at Castlebay Lane Charter and Porter Ranch Community School, which are downwind from the Aliso Canyon site. There was also growing concern about the long-term health effects, since Southern California Gas has estimated it could take until spring to cap the leak in a well that is used for gas storage.
As a result, the District decided to temporarily relocate the two schools. Crews have spent the three weeks of winter break building satellite facilities on the grounds of other schools. When classes resume next week, Castlebay students will be at Sunny Brae Elementary School and PRCS will be at Northridge Middle School. The relocation will be in effect for the duration of the school year.
“The governor’s declaration is timely and appreciated,” said school board member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the Porter Ranch and Northridge areas. “It will further support the District’s tireless emergency efforts to protect the health and well-being of our students and employees.”
By occupying available space on campus and in portable classrooms, the Castlebay and PRCS students will be able to remain with their classmates, and they will have the same teachers as at their home schools. They’ll even have the same desks, textbooks and lunch benches, which have been moved from Porter Ranch to the temporary sites.
Facing a tight deadline, employees from Facilities and 16 other divisions have been working 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week. They were undaunted by the arrival of El Niño storms, donning rain gear and working under tarps to get the job completed on time.
The District is still compiling the cost of the relocation, but will seek reimbursement from Southern California Gas.
In a statement, Brown notes the “prolonged and continuing duration” of the gas leak and “directs further action to protect public health and safety, ensure accountability and strengthen oversite of gas storage facilities.”
The statement also outlines action that state agencies will take:
— Stopping the leak: Ensuring that Southern California Gas will draw down the amount of natural gas from the subterranean storage well to reduce the pressure on the ruptured 7-inch pipeline; capture leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being drilled; and identifying next steps if the relief wells fail to seal the leak or if it worsens.
— Protecting public health and safety: Expand monitoring of emissions and convene an independent panel to review public health concerns. In addition, the gas company will be prohibited from storing more gas at Aliso Canyon until a review of the site is completed.
— Ensuring Accountability: The Public Utilities Commission will ensure that Southern California Gas covers costs related to the leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers. The company wll also have to pay for a state-run program to mitigate the methane leak.
— Strengthening oversight: Gas storage facilities statewide must be inspected at least once a day for leaks, and operators must create a risk-management plan for each site.