California governor issues declaration after massive outpouring of methane fumes forces thousands to flee affluent neighbourhood once coveted for its clean living
Infrared footage of Aliso Canyon, Califionia shows a natural gas leak. Photo: EDF/YouTube
By Robert Tait, Los Angeles
12:12AM GMT 07 Jan 2016
California's governor, Jerry Brown, declared a state of emergency in an upscale Los Angeles neighbourhood on Wednesday over a massive gas leak that has displaced thousands of people and left many complaining of illness.
The declaration came amid rising anger over the failure to solve the leak that has wafted pungent sulphurous-smelling fumes over the middle class Porter Ranch area, which was once famed for its clean air. Many residents have sought refuge in hotels and temporary accommodation.
It came after Mr Brown - who had been accused of inaction over the crisis - toured the area and met a residents' delegation.
Mr Brown said his emergency declaration authorised "all state agencies [to] utilise state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough state response to this incident".
Los Angeles county had already declared a state of emergency last month in response to the October 23 leak from a gas leak in a well in a storage facility at Aliso Canyon, operated by the Southern California Gas Companny (SoCal Gas).
The leak belched about 100,000 pounds of methane gas an hour into the atmosphere. Much of it blew into the residential area about a mile away by the the winds that characterise the San Fernando valley area where Porter Ranch lies, producing a smell inhabitants compared to rotten eggs.
SoCal Gas said the leak would take three to four months to repair. Repeated attempts at capping it at the well failed, forcing the company to drill relief wells in an attempt to intercept and plug the leaking well.
Residents have complained of a range of ailments, including headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, although health officials have insisted there are no long-term health risks. They have attributed the sulphur-like odour to additives in the gas.
After Los Angeles city council sought a court order, SoCal Gas agreed to relocate 2,684 families within 72 hours just before Christmas amid complaints that the leak had made conditions intolerable. The company had already paid to move 2,100 families into temporary quarters, exhausting much of the local hotel and short-term rental market.
The boundary of Southern California Gas Company property, where Aliso Canyon Storage Field is located Photo: AFP
Under pressure, SoCal gas has agreed to pay up to US$ 7,500 (£5,126) a month per household for alternative accommodation and has retained 17 re-location agencies to manage the process.
Home to 25,000 people, Porter Ranch, on the hilly north-western tip of San Fernando Valley, is one of Los Angeles' most affluent areas, and boasts one of the city's lowest population densities. The Los Angeles Times once described it as "a calm outpost of Los Angeles" that offered "sanctuary from the urban hubub".