Some city residents have filed their own lawsuit against the company, and lawyers for the residents released infrared video that they claim shows a large cloud of methane.
The city's lawsuit alleges that over a million metric tons of methane, or in excess of two billion pounds, has been released by a leak in the Aliso Canyon area and that residents have been forced to move out of the Porter Ranch neighborhood as a result of the leak.
The city lawsuit alleges that there is also a rotten eggs smell from another gas called mercaptan, an odorant that is added to gas to make it detectable to the human nose, that is escaping from the natural gas well. The lawsuit also accuses the gas company of "unlawful and unfair business practices" that "allowed the well to fail."
The Southern California Gas Company acknowledged that a leak was detected at a natural gas storage well on Oct. 23, but claims that “experts agree that natural gas is not toxic.”
"We understand the leak has created concerns, heightened awareness and public urgency," the gas company said in a statement. "SoCalGas has the same urgency and our highest priority is to safely stop the leak as quickly as safety will allow, support the affected customers, and reduce the amount of natural gas emitting into the environment during this unfortunate situation."
The company said it has taken steps to temporarily relocate some 700 families and that it is not possible to accurately measure at this time the amount of natural gas that it is losing from the leak. It has been in daily contact with state and local officials from the beginning, SoCalGas representatives said, and the company has provided filtration devices for residents in the area. It could take three to four months for the leak to be contained, according to SoCalGas.
"We regret that the smell of the odorant in natural gas is unpleasant and that some people are sensitive to the odor, and we sincerely apologize for the annoyance and concern this odor is causing the neighboring communities," the company said in a statement. "However, the leak does not pose an imminent threat to public safety. The well is located in an isolated, mountain area more than a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than the closest home or public area."
The city's lawsuit alleges that city residents have suffered from "nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds, and headaches" from the leak. Moreover, contamination of groundwater could lead to long-term health consequences, the lawsuit said.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, exposure to high levels of methane "can also cause dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of coordination." Methane is the primary component of natural gas.
The city's lawsuit aims to get the leak repaired quickly, find the cause of the leak, and "ensure that any systemic deficiencies in the operation of all wells and other infrastructure" are addressed at the site.