California gas company finds underground location of leaking well

The location of an underground well pipe that has been leaking methane gas in a Los Angeles neighborhood has been pinpointed, Southern California Gas Co. officials said Sunday.

The utility company said it had drilled down about 3,800 feet when it found the breached well’s 7-inch pipe with a magnetic ranging tool that allows workers on the surface to locate small underground targets. They are drilling a relief well nearby that they will eventually connect to the leaking well so they can plug it with cement. The leak has forced thousands of people to leave their homes.

"One of the challenges in drilling this relief well is to find a 7-inch pipe from about 1,500 feet away, several thousands of feet below ground - while avoiding others nearby," Southern California Gas Co. said in a statement issued Monday. There are more than 100 such wells in the area.

Workers still aren't sure exactly where the 8,700-foot well was breached but suspect it was relatively close to the surface.

"We think it's probably leaking above the thousand-foot level," Gas Co. spokeswoman Melissa Bailey said Monday.

She added utility workers will continue to drill to the well's bottom, where they'll plug it. That work could take until March.

Methane gas has been leaking since Oct. 23 in the Porter Ranch community and thousands of people have reported feeling nauseous and getting nosebleeds, among other symptoms from the gas.

Last week, the Environmental Defense Fund released a video showing the gas spewing from the leak in Aliso Canyon. The giant plumes were made visible by a special infrared camera operated by an Earthworks ITC-certified thermographer, according to the group. More than 150 million pounds of methane is pouring into the air and the end isn’t close.

“It’s one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported,” Tim O’Connor, the California climate director for the Environment Defense Fund, told The Washington Post. “It is coming out with force, in incredible volumes. And it is absolutely uncontained.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District already agreed to relocate nearly 1,900 students from schools near the leak, citing disruption from absenteeism and several visits to the health office. The move is set to take place over winter break and could last until June.

The gas company is also paying to relocate those who say they are being sickened. Company spokeswoman Anne Silva said, the utility has placed 2,258 families in temporary housing, while 111 others staying with family or friends are being compensated. More than 3,000 others are in the process of being relocated.

The leak has also struck a blow in the California’s plans to reduce emissions. Environmental experts told The Washington Post the Aliso Canyon leak has become the biggest single source of methane emissions in the entire state.

Porter Ranch is a bucolic community of large, stately homes in the foothills of the north San Fernando Valley. It is home to about 30,000 people and includes parks and hiking trails.

The gas is coming from an underground storage area more than 8,000 feet deep that can hold as much as 86 billion cubic feet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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