Gas company pinpoints well spewing noxious odour that forced residents to leave LA neighbourhood

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Southern California Gas Co. officials say they have pinpointed the specific well that for weeks has spewed noxious odours into an upscale Los Angeles neighbourhood, prompting thousands of people to leave their homes over the holidays.

The utility company said Sunday it found the natural gas well, out of 115 in the area, with the use of a magnetic ranging tool that allows workers on the surface to locate underground targets as small as 7 inches in diameter.

Workers still aren’t sure exactly where the 8,700-foot well was breached but suspect it was somewhere within the first several hundred feet, Gas Co. spokeswoman Anne Silva said.

The workers are digging a relief well in the area that they eventually plan to link to the damaged well. They will then flood the leaking well with cement and permanently plug it. Officials say that work could take until March.

Since the well began leaking Oct. 23, thousands of people in the Porter Ranch area say they have suffered headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and other symptoms from the escaping gas. The smell comes from an additive called mercaptan that is used to warn people of leaking natural gas, which is ordinarily odourless.

The Gas Co. is paying to relocate those who say they are being sickened.

So far, 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.

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.