The Southern California Gas Co. suspended operations at its natural gas storage field in Playa del Rey pending an investigation of an incident that caused an unusually large flame and smoke Jan. 6.
Some local residents were startled to see the large flames and plume of smoke rise from the field near Culver Boulevard at about noon.
Phil Gilboy said he was walking his dogs on Billowvista Drive about a quarter-mile from the gas storage facility when he heard a sound like a nearby jet engine. When he turned around and looked toward the gas plant he saw a flame shooting about 100 feet into the air.
“The flames only lasted for a few minutes,” he said, adding that the fire department responded quickly.
Resident Pam Brown told Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office that she and her husband heard a loud roar and gazed at the high flames from their home near the facility.
“We have had incidents from the company before but nothing like this. Must say, it was an impressive sight,” she told Rosendahl’s office.
The incident was an unplanned release of natural gas during normal operations of injecting gas into the storage field, said Southern California Gas Co. spokesman Javier Mendoza. A relief vent properly released the natural gas, but upon the release, the gas temporarily ignited, causing the loud noise and an unusually large visible flame for a brief period, Mendoza explained.
No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.
“It was an unusually large flame for a short time and then the size of the flame was reduced significantly,” he said.
The exact cause of the fire is under investigation. Gas Company staff were able to stop the flow of gas, and with the assistance of fire and police units, the flame was fully extinguished within an hour, Mendoza said.
The damage was primarily cosmetic and estimated at under $5,000 in cleanup and smoke, Mendoza said.
Gas Company officials issued an apology for any concerns the event may have caused, but noted that it posed no immediate danger to neighboring areas or the public.
“We want to reassure our neighbors and communities that SoCalGas is working diligently to investigate the cause and make any required changes so this unusual occurrence can be avoided in the future,” Mendoza said.
Environmentalist Marcia Hanscom believes the facility is an antiquated method of storing gas and expressed concerns due its proximity to residences, saying it poses dangers to the health and safety of the community as well as nearby Ballona Wetlands wildlife.
But Gas Company officials stress that the storage plant is recognized for safety and has a decades-long record of safe operations. The company continues to operate the field with the safety of its neighbors as a top priority, and minimizing public exposure to odors emanating from the facility is one of their main objectives, officials said.
Mendoza said the company works to notify the community ahead of time whenever there is a release of gas. Under a settlement with the Public Utilities Commission, the company contacts local residents within 24 hours following an unplanned venting of gas lasting longer than 10 minutes.
“We appreciate customers keeping us informed of conditions surrounding our facilities and we will continue to work in partnership with the community to maintain a safe environment when it comes to our operations,” Mendoza said.
The natural gas storage field has been in operation since 1942.