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Porter Ranch Gas Leak Could Have Been Prevented With Missing Part

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The massive gas leak near Porter Ranch could have been easily prevented if the well had a safety valve—a part that was removed over 35 years ago.Had Southern California Gas' well at the Aliso Canyon facility had the part in place, it could have shut down the well and prevented what Mayor Eric Garcetti has called an "environmental disaster." In an interview, SoCalGas exective Rodger Schwecke told LA Weekly, "We removed that valve in 1979."

According to Schwecke, the valve was old and leaking and the company opted not to replace the part on the well, officially named SS-25. SoCalGas did not violate any regulations in not replacing the part, because SS-25 was not considered a "critical" well—one that is within 300 feet of homes. The community of Porter Ranch, whose residents are being relocated because of the noxious fumes, are about a mile away.

An attorney representing the residents says the valve might not have prevented the leak altogether, but it would have prevented the fumes from wafting over nearby homes and making people sick. "There would have been a small runoff of some gas and it would have been over," attorney Brian Panish told the L.A. Times. "All these people wouldn't have had to leave and they wouldn't be sick."

Engineers believe a pipe ruptured about 500 feet below the surface and the gas is leaking through the soil. SS-25 was first in operation as an oil well in 1954 and was converted to a gas reservoir in 1973. Its pipes are 61 years old. According to official documents filed by the company last year, SoCalGas knew its aging infrastructure was bound to fail.

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Despite the massive catastrophe, SoCalGas did not appear to break any laws leading up to the leak. "The trouble is, the rules are so soft and undemanding," Anneliese Anderle, a retired engineer for the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources, told LA Weekly.

"Now there's definitely going to be a push for changing the regulations," said Anderle. "You get rid of a safety valve because it wasn't working? A safety valve would have shut the damn well down! They're in a bunch of trouble."