Gas meter indicator
Gas meter. Photo credit: Wiki Commons

A group of state legislators unveiled a package of proposed legislation Monday in response to a continuing gas leak in Porter Ranch, calling for an immediate moratorium on injecting any more gas into the well and calling for stepped-up inspections of aging wells statewide.

“We need to have more inspections, more pro-active inspections,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. “We need to have a plan as infrastructure ages out — some kind of policy and timeline for replacement. Always err on the side of caution, not hoping with your fingers crossed that there won’t be a problem.”

Pavley and other legislators noted that while seven state agencies are involved in monitoring or investigating the leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, there is no single agency with responsibility for oversight of such facility. Such oversight is called for in one of the bills the legislators plan to introduce. The bill would also require a utility responsible for environmental damage to bear the full cost of remediation without passing the bill to ratepayers.

The senators also plan to introduce a bill that would ban new injections of gas into Aliso Canyon and bar the use of aging wells at the site until they can be inspected to determine they do not pose any public safety risk.

The proposed legislation will also include requirements for inspections of storage facilities across California, mandating such inspections over the next 12 months, then at least once a year afterward.

The senators noted that more than half of the roughly 420 gas storage wells in the state are more than 40 years old. They said 48 of the 111 storage wells at Aliso Canyon were drilled in 1953 or earlier.

Gas Co. spokeswoman Trisha Muse said the company appreciates the lawmakers’ “interest in the topic” and looks forward to taking part in the public discussion around them.

No injections are being made in the field at this time, though gas is still being withdrawn, Muse said.

Muse said the Aliso Canyon facility is “the largest of four natural gas storage fields that SoCalGas operates in Southern California” and provides fuel to “homes, manufacturers, hospitals, universities, small businesses and all customers who rely on a ready supply of energy from natural gas.”

Similarly to water reservoirs, “we need to maintain the gas reserves at Aliso at a functional level to ensure we can meet the demand,” Muse said.

“Aliso is unquestionably a strategic asset that is vital to the region’s economy and the people who depend on a reliable source of energy from natural gas,” according to Muse.

The Aliso Canyon leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects. Thousands of residents have been temporarily moved out of the area, and thousands more are looking to move.

Two schools in the area have also been shut down, with students being transferred to other campuses when classes resume Tuesday.

Southland air quality regulators are proposing an order that would require the Gas Co. to install equipment to capture and incinerate natural gas leaking from the well.

A Gas Co. official said the utility has submitted permit applications to begin installing the equipment, but it’s unclear how long it will take to process them. Hundreds of Porter Ranch-area residents packed a South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing Saturday to discuss the mitigation measures.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich compared the problem with one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

“This is a critical problem. This is a mini-Chernobyl. This is a problem,” he said to applause. “They’ve had their Thanksgiving, they’ve had their Hanukkah, they’ve had their Christmas, they’ve had their New Year, they’ve had their family celebrations all disrupted because of irresponsible actions, from the state to the gas company.”

Gas. Co. attorney Robert Wyman of the firm Latham & Watkins LLP stated at the meeting that the leak was “being addressed as safely and expeditiously as possible.”

“This is SoCalGas’s highest priority,” he said.

Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against SoCalGas over the leak, including one by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. He announced Monday that Los Angeles County has joined that litigation.

— Wire reports 

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