LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Southern California Gas Co is erecting large screens near a massive underground leak of natural gas that has been seeping into the air to prevent wind-blown droplets from drifting to a surrounding community, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.
The utility, one of the largest in the United States, said in a statement on Monday it continued its "relentless focus" on stopping the leak at its Aliso Canyon Storage Facility and was on track for repairs to be complete by late February or March.
Several thousand residents of the Porter Ranch community have been displaced while the repairs take place, with the utility agreeing to provide temporary accommodations or reimburse those who make their own arrangements.
On Sunday, crews began erecting 100-foot high mesh screens to catch airborne droplets of a brine solution emanating from the leak site that may contained trace amounts of oil, a utility spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.
Strong winds might have blown the mist to "properties immediately adjacent to the facility," she told the newspaper.
The utility could not immediately be reached for comment about the erection of the screens.
The natural gas leak, detected on Oct. 23, is believed to have been caused by a broken injection-well pipe several hundred feet beneath the surface of the utility's 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon gas storage field.
The escaping gas now accounts for roughly a quarter of the state's total emissions of methane, the principal component of natural gas and a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Attorneys for Porter Ranch residents on Monday sent a letter to state officials demanding that the State Oil & Gas Supervisor issue an emergency order requiring Southern California Gas Co to stop all injections in the field.
"Let there be no dispute about the impact this leak is having on the families in Porter Ranch," the letter said. Thousands of families had to evacuate during this holiday season. The families in this community live here because it is supposed to be safe, and now it is not."
The utility insists that the leak, while a major public nuisance, poses no immediate public safety threat because the gas dissipates outdoors.
County health officials said long-term health effects from exposure to the gas are unknown.
SoCal Gas is owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere)