A California official outlined a plan Thursday to cap a massive Los Angeles-area gas leak by the end of next week.
The final phase to intercept the ruptured Southern California Gas Co. well is expected to begin Monday, said Wade Crowfoot, an adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown. If all goes according to plan, it should to take contractors about five days to permanently seal the well that has been leaking since October.
The announcement at a public meeting is ahead of the company's worst-case prediction that it would be plugged by the end of the month. The well has been leaking for 15 weeks and has been a major disruption for the upscale Porter Ranch community in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.
The well blowout at the largest natural gas storage facility in the West has uprooted thousands of residents and spewed more than 2 million tons of climate-changing methane in what environmentalists have said is the worst crisis since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Residents have complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other symptoms. Public health officials blame the woes on an odorant added to the gas, but they said there shouldn't be long-term health problems.
The governor declared an emergency last month, and several public agencies are investigating the leak and have ordered the company to stop it.
Crowfoot said that once the leaking well is intercepted a mile-and-a-half underground, mud and fluids will be pumped into it to stop the gas that is gushing out.
When no gas is leaking, cement will be pumped down the old well to permanently plug it, Crowfoot said. It should take a couple days for the cement to cure. When state regulators determine the plug is solid and the well is not leaking, they will declare it killed, he said.
SoCalGas Vice President Gillian Wright cautioned that the outlined plan was tentative and several steps had to be taken before it could be put in place.
"We are very close to the end of the leak, however we are also in the most technically demanding phase of the work," Wright said. "So that's a tentative schedule. It's not a definitive schedule."
The utility paid $50 million through December to relocate residents and try in vain to plug the leak, according to financial regulatory filings. It hasn't provided a cost update since. But the number of relocations has soared to 4,400 households, and the company is facing more than two dozen lawsuits from residents and several public agencies.
SoCalGas was charged this week by the Los Angeles district attorney with misdemeanor criminal charges for failing to notify state emergency officials about the leak for three days after it was detected on Oct. 23.