Although officials initially suspected that the gas leak at Wilshire Boulevard and Curson Avenue was natural gas, the city’s Bureau of Sanitation has determined that the gas build-up was the result of methane coming from the La Brea Tar Pits.
The bureau’s assistant director, Varouj Abkian, said workers will be venting the maintenance holes in the area on a 24/7 basis until a permanent — or semi-permanent — solution can be implemented.
“We are treating it seriously,” he said, adding that the bureau will continue to work collaboratively with other city agencies. Abkian said it’s possible the city could bring in some “outside players” or federal entities to remedy the issue.
On May 3, City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, drafted a motion that directed the bureau to report back to the council on the source of the build-up, long-term solutions to fix the problem and potential funding sources for the work. The motion was seconded by Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District.
“There will never be a permanent fix, but there needs to be a controlled fix,” LaBonge said.
He referenced the methane gas explosion near the intersection of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue in 1985 that injured several people. LaBonge said the area had heavy rain prior to the incident, which contributed to the build-up. That hasn’t been the case with the most recent build-up.
“If you see something, say something, but there is a natural situation there,” LaBonge said. “I know [the bureau has its] resources and eyes on it. …I think they will be on top of it — no pun intended.”
The bureau has barricaded areas where ventilation is ongoing, but nearby businesses have not been evacuated since the build-up was discovered on April 23. Abkian advised residents to steer clear of barricaded areas.
He said gas build-up is a natural occurrence related to the Tar Pits. However, Abkian said a 30-foot “stack” on the southwest corner of the intersection had been completely plugged. It vents an oil sump system in the area, and is now operating again, he said.
The issue came to light after students were conducting odor and gas testing near the Tar Pits and noticed the presence of explosive gases. The Bureau of Sanitation dispatched employees to assess the situation, and later the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to cordon off the area. Since then, ventilators have been working around the clock.
Abkian said the bureau determined that the leak was not a result of natural gas after the Southern California Gas Company took a sample of the natural gas in the pipeline and compared it to the “fugitive” gas. It was later determined to be methane.
“The gas has been there forever,” Abkian said. “It’s a natural occurrence.”
James Gilson, administrator of the George C. Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits, said methane reaches the surfaces through fissures in the Earth. He said the gas forms deep below the surface.
“Methane is one of the components of what bubbles up and comes to the surface [in the Tar Pits],” Gilson said.
He said the gas becomes an issue when it is trapped in an enclosed space, such as the 1985 explosion near Ross Dress for Less. That is why many buildings in the area, including LACMA and the Page Museum, have methane vents. It is also why some structures at the Page Museum do not have enclosed roofs, Gilson said.
“The goal is to let it vent and keep it out of buildings or from concentrating in buildings,” he added.
Gilson said the Page Museum was built in 1977, and it has never had a problem with methane gas build-up. He said museum staff has not been asked to assist in fixing the issue at Curson Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. However, Gilson invited residents to the museum to see the phenomenon first-hand.
Abkian said the bureau will continue to monitor the situation. He praised some readers of Park LaBrea News and Beverly Press, who, after reading the initial story about the issue, provided some local history to assist with the work.
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