02:34 - Source: CNN
No-fly zone over California gas leak

Story highlights

1,870 students in the Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch will be sent to other schools

Los Angeles school district is building portable classrooms for the transfers

SoCal Gas has already temporarily relocated more than 1,600 households

Los Angeles CNN  — 

A massive methane gas leak is sending 1,870 students in the Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch to alternate schools next semester, a transfer that will last until the end of the school year.

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced this week that transfers will affect students from Castle Bay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School, “where teaching and learning have been disrupted by a natural gas leak.”

Portable classrooms and other improvements will be created over the three-week winter break at Sunny Brae Elementary School and Northridge Middle School, which will receive the relocated students, the district said.

“This has been a difficult decision because it will impact the lives of so many families,” said Scott Schmerelson, the school board member who represents Porter Ranch and the West San Fernando Valley.

“I believe this is the right decision to protect the health of our students and employees and to stabilize the learning environment.”

Southern California Gas Company supported the student transfers but asserted the gas leak doesn’t pose any long-term harm.

“We are sorry some of the children and staff are experiencing short-term symptoms from the odor and we have been working with LAUSD and the schools to alleviate concerns,” said spokesman Javier Mendoza.

“SoCalGas will support the efforts to relocate the schools with the aim of keeping the disruption to a minimum,” he added. “As part of our community air sampling program, SoCalGas has been sampling the air near the schools, twice-a-day, from the outset of our program. Both the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have stated that the results of air sampling do not indicate any risk of long-term health effects.”

Southern California Gas Company has said it has paid 1,675 households to relocate because of methane leaking at a storage facility it owns in the Santa Susana Mountains.

The school board adopted a resolution to sue SoCal Gas, if necessary, to recover the cost of moving the students.

SoCal Gas is being criticized by angry Porter Ranch residents and local politicians. One affected family has already filed a lawsuit.

The utility vows it’s working around the clock to stop the leak, first reported on October 23.

The gas company’s prime focus, after other failed capping attempts, is drilling a relief well, a process that will take months.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it invoked a no-fly zone over the project, in response to fears fumes from the gas leak could be ignited from the air.

The temporary flight restrictions extend up to 2,000 feet and a half mile around the site and were requested by state and county emergency management offices, according to the FAA.

Several government agencies are working in and around Porter Ranch to try to determine just how toxic the gas leak may be.

SoCal Gas said it’s doing everything possible to help residents and has been upfront about the leak from the beginning.

Many displaced residents are clustered around several relocation hotels in the San Fernando Valley.