By Chris Burrous, Tracy Bloom, and Kareen Wynter
As Porter Ranch residents continued to express concerns over a leaking methane gas well, the Federal Aviation Administration banned planes from flying over the area until early next March.
The temporary flight restriction was posted on the FAA’s website Thursday and will expire March 8. It prohibits any aircraft from flying within a half-mile radius of the site, and extends up to 2,000 feet above the surface.
The development comes more than six weeks after natural gas was discovered seeping from an underground well at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains.
Representatives from the private utility told the Los Angeles City Council last week that they would stop using the well after the leak was fixed, but cautioned it could take months for the seepage to stop.
According to a statement from the Gas Co., the no fly zone was issued over the area “due to heightened media interest in the area, and out of an abundance of caution.”
“This is to minimize risk to workers on the site that could be caused by distractions of aircraft flying too low over the area. There is no need to evacuate,” the statement read.
Lawyers on Dec. 8, 2015, hosted a news conference and showed video allegedly capturing a cloud of gas caused by a leak at Aliso Canyon.
However, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer wrote in an email that he believed the order was requested “out of concerns that fumes from the gas leak could be ignited from the air.”
He added that restrictions would have no effect on commercial operations, and would have minimal impact on general aviation.
And in an interview Friday morning, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander slammed the Gas Co., saying he wasn’t buying their “excuse.”
“The FAA, when they put something like that in, it’s very serious,” said Englander, who represents the 12th District.
“SoCal Gas has failed miserably,” the councilman added.
Englander told KTLA that thousands of concerned Porter Ranch residents have fled their homes amid fears over potential long-term health effects from the leak.
“This is a major national crisis,” he said. “The EPA, the PUC, they need to be here publicly sharing every single day, what’s going on.”
The Gas Co. has stated that the well is more than 1 mile away from the nearest homes in the area, and poses no risk to people’s health.
According to a fact sheet from the Los Angeles County Department of Health, the primary health hazard with the odorless gas is flammability.
“Methane inhalation in this setting generally does not lead to health effects,” the fact sheet stated. “Methane level readings in Porter Ranch are substantially lower than flammable limits, and do not pose a health concern to residents in the area.”
Nevertheless, parents concerned about their children’s health have requested the Los Angeles Unified School District relocate students from two local schools — Castlebay Lane and Porter Ranch Community School — until the leak is fixed.
They have started a Change.org petition, and were gathering signatures and urging those who signed it to also email LAUSD board members.
Numerous protests have also taken place over the leak, including one Friday morning.
KTLA’s Jennifer Thang contributed to this story.