A utility that owns a natural gas well that leaked uncontrollably for almost four months near Los Angeles and created the biggest known methane release in U.S. history said Friday it was appealing a court order to extend housing for displaced families.
Southern California Gas Co. said it challenged the order because air quality has returned to normal levels in the San Fernando Valley communities near its Aliso Canyon gas storage facility and public health agencies said it doesn't pose long-term health risks.
"Given these independent health findings, we were disappointed by the court's order, as it conflicts with the science and health assessments made by the county's own health experts over the last few months," the company said in a statement.
The company had been due to halt payments Thursday for residents staying in hotels and with friends, but Los Angeles County lawyers won a last-minute court order extending that date until March 18.
The leak that uprooted 6,400 families, mostly in the Porter Ranch community, was blamed for causing symptoms that included headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and respiratory problems.
Some people who returned home complained of ongoing health problems, and the county said it was testing to make sure there were no contaminants in homes.
Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle granted the extension, saying the health risks to residents outweighed the gas company's financial risks. The company said it was spending about $2 million a day for housing.
SoCalGas said it would continue to pay for residents who remain in hotels until the appeal is resolved.
The court case doesn't affect those staying in apartments and houses leased until April 30.
State officials declared the leaking well dead last week. Scientists said it had spewed 107,000 tons of methane — a potent global warming gas — making it the largest known leak of its kind in the U.S.
It contributed the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars in a year and at its peak doubled the rate of methane emissions for the Los Angeles basin.
State utility and gas regulators are investigating the cause of the leak and the state's air board is developing a plan to make SoCalGas mitigate the environmental impact of the blowout.