Small Gas Leak Becomes Big Headache
A Westchester woman was forced to wait nearly half a year for the gas company to take action
By Gary Walker
The rotten egg scent of leaking natural gas was not one of the aromas of spring and summer that Heather Dallas had anticipated this year.
Emanating from a faulty natural gas main in front of her home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Westchester, Dallas said the smell slowly transformed from a nuisance the first time she became aware of it in February into an all-consuming worry that also attracted the attention of her neighbors.
Five months and 18 service calls later, her frustration mounting daily, Dallas was at last able to convince the Southern California Gas Company, the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, to come out in June and conduct a series of tests on the gas main in
front of her home.
“They told me it was a low-level gas leak and that my husband and I were not in any danger,” she said.
And then nothing happened.
Dallas contacted The Argonaut about the situation on June 24, and about a week later gas company officials notified her that her block of 80th Place would be getting a brand new natural gas main.
“It’s amazing. It’s great news,” she said at the time. But also: “It shouldn’t take calling a newspaper to get them to respond to a gas leak. We understand that the gas company is servicing a large number of customers, and we understand that they say it is a low-level leak and it may not be their highest priority. However, not being told the source of the leak and what exactly is going to be done and the lack of communication is what has created the most anxiety about this situation. At some point it just becomes insulting.”
And then another obstacle appeared.
Installing a new gas main would require a permit from the city’s Public Works Department, and that’s a process that could take several weeks.
The Argonaut told Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin about the situation, and Bonin responded immediately that he’d push for the city to fast-track the permit.
October’s massive natural gas leak at a Southern California Gas Company facility in Porter Ranch — the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history — was top of mind.
“Public safety must always be a priority, and this leak needs to be fixed immediately. I am asking SoCal Gas and Public Works to expedite the repairs. Especially after the Aliso Canyon debacle, we cannot take for granted the safety or health of neighbors, and I will not tolerate excuses for not addressing this situation urgently,” Bonin said. “SoCal Gas told neighbors that the leak would be repaired ‘as an emergency,’ and that is exactly what should happen.”
SoCal Gas spokesman Sergio Jimenez said he realizes that customers can become frustrated if they feel that no one is paying attention to them.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority, and every call we receive about a suspected natural gas leak is investigated thoroughly,” he said. “Crews returning to the scene of earlier reports of a natural gas odor discovered a minor non-hazardous leak on a main under the street. The leak is non-hazardous, does not pose a risk to public safety and repairs are scheduled.”
Environmental factors such as wind can sometimes make very small leaks “virtually undetectable,” Jimenez said.
But the leak had gone beyond being a personal crisis for Dallas. It became a full-on neighborhood concern.
“It becomes embarrassing when your neighbors stroll by with their baby and ask you if you’re doing anything about the leak in front of our house,” Dallas said.
And with the specter of Porter Ranch barely in the rear view mirror, a gas leak of any sort has other home-owners worried.
“Walking by, I smell it often in the morning. And with a one-year-old daughter, it’s concerning,” said Dallas’ neighbor Danny Bresnick. “When [So Cal Gas] tells you there’s nothing wrong, you have to believe them, in a sense, but I don’t think [a gas main] should leak this much. No one should have a gas leak in front of their home.
“There could be a time after they’ve told us that it was fine and then something happens. I’ve lived all over the county and no one who smells gas thinks it’s a normal thing,” Bresnick said.
Dallas’ home is less than a block away from Orville Wright Middle School and directly in front of Westchester United Methodist Church, where Nir Eitan teaches music at a school that rents space from the church. He smelled gas from the leak for months and was concerned enough to call the gas company.
“I called twice and they told me that it had been resolved. After I continued to smell it, I gave up,” Eitan said. “There’s no such thing as a leak that’s not dangerous.”
Dallas is looking forward to the day when the smell of gas will be a distant memory.
“I’m glad that I spoke up and that now something positive might happen for the whole block,” she said.