By Paula Lehman
LOS ANGELES – California residents sickened and forced to evacuate their homes in the biggest methane gas leak in state history voiced their frustrations at a public meeting on Friday, with many saying they opposed the resumption of work at the natural gas facility.
Neither the state nor the utility have been able to stop the leak that has affected thousands of residents since it was detected on Oct. 23 at an underground natural gas storage field in Porter Ranch in northern Los Angeles.
Environmental activists such as Erin Brockovich have called it the worst leak in the United States since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Southern California Gas Co, one of the country’s biggest gas utilities and a division of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, has said the leak was caused by a broken injection-well pipe several hundred feet beneath the surface of the 3,600-acre field. The company aims to complete a relief well to stop the leak by late March.
The late Friday meeting marked the highest level delegation of California officials to the Porter Ranch area since Governor Jerry Brown visited the site on Jan. 4, prompting him to declare a state of emergency.
About 1,000 residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns to a panel of local and state officials that included Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the governor’s office of emergency services, and Matt Rodriquez, Secretary of Environmental Protection in California.
Attendees held signs that read “Shut it ALL Down,” and asked about the immediate impact on their health, whether they had stayed in their homes or decided to relocate, with expenses to be covered by Southern California Gas Co.
““What are you doing now?” meeting attendee and longtime Porter Ranch resident Scott Barrer said. “Legislation down the road doesn’t work. We’re still paying gas bills to the people who are poisoning us.”
Southern California Gas Co has said stopping the leak is its highest priority and is committed to working with the community. It could not be reached for comment about the meeting.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Paula Lehman; Editing by Sara Catania, Lisa Shumaker, Victoria Cavaliere and Kim Coghill)