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California Lawmakers Proposing Legislation to Prevent Future Gas Storage Leaks

In response to the natural gas storage well leak and resulting community unrest at the Aliso Canyon underground storage field, California lawmakers on Monday introduced three bills aimed at preventing a recurrence, stiffening state regulations and minimizing reliance on underground storage to the extent energy reliability concerns will permit.

Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), whose Aliso Canyon field has struggled for more than two months with the leaking well, pledged to work closely with lawmakers and all officials engaged in efforts to resolve the situation and return several thousand residents to their homes in the Porter Ranch development in the far northwest end of Los Angeles.

At the leak site on Monday, state Sen. Fran Pavley, chair of the natural resources/water committee, said the first priority is fixing the leak and getting residents back in their homes. But she wants laws passed to prevent another leak, including shutting all of the older wells from the 1940s and 1950s at all of the state's gas storage facilities until they have been thoroughly inspected to ensure the integrity of their casings.

"We will be focused on this in the months ahead and through the rest of this year," said Pavley. "One of our goals is stated as 'never again.”

For the first time, Pavley and other officials speaking at a press conference acknowledged that the utility's gas storage field pre-dates any of the homes built in Porter Ranch where residents have complained about various ill-health effects from the odorant in the leaking gas supplies. Among many other issues, she said state lawmakers should look at land-use planning guidelines.

SB 875, 876 and 877 call for more regulation, inspections and integrity verification for the state's gas storage facilities, four of which are operated by SoCalGas:

  • SB 875 would require older wells to be shut down until an outside expert and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) determine that they are not a risk to public health and safety;
  • SB 876 would make the state Office of Emergency Services the lead agency under for any future leaks; the bill also would require SoCalGas shareholders to pay the costs of plugging the leak; and
  • Under SB 877, inspections of all gas storage facilities would be required during the next year. They would be repeated annually under another bill.

Pavley said the proposed legislation mirrors the emergency proclamation that Gov. Jerry Brown issued last week (see Daily GPIJan. 6). "We want to make this legislative package consistent and complementary to the governor executive order," she said.

Part of the legislation would call for state agencies and outside experts to consider "how to eliminate or minimize use of the [Aliso Canyon] facility while still maintaining energy reliability," said Pavley, acknowledging that 21 million people rely on the Aliso Canyon facility as part of their retail gas utility services. Subsurface safety valves and setback requirements for future home developments are also part of the legislative package, she said.

A fourth proposal by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (SB 878) would address long-term climate pollution reduction by requiring polluters, including emitters of methane, to set percentage reduction goals (40% to 50%) by 2030.

"We also propose that state and local agencies deploy a high-tech imaging process developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to detect plumes of methane," said Pavley, adding that requirements for a comprehensive study of the long-term health impacts for exposure to methane also will be included in the new legislation.

Separately, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the area, on Tuesday called for the city to make "sweeping" regulatory reforms for overseeing oil and gas operations. He has said he wants more reporting requirements and to prevent new wells from being drilled. He also wants to prevent SoCalGas from being allowed to pass along Aliso Canyon remediation costs to utility customers.

"The Aliso Canyon gas leak is proving to be one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the history of California," Englander said.

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