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Residents Seek to Close SoCalGas Storage Facility; Gov. Brown Declares Emergency

Residents living in the area adjacent to the Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) underground natural gas storage field, where a two-month-old leak has forced many to relocate, have asked state oil and gas regulators to shut down the facility.

Separately on Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared the situation an emergency, detailing the state's stepped up efforts to protect public health and safety.

Brown said his action was a direct result of his meeting earlier in the week with residents impacted by the leak. He said he recognized the "months of activity" by seven state agencies since the leak was discovered in late October. That ongoing activity includes directing SoCalGas to retain a third-party to complete a technical analysis of the well failure that is to be made public.

Lawyers representing some of the residents also are claiming the Los Angeles-based utility has violated residents’ property rights under the U.S. Constitution. Under the newly formed Save Porter Ranch group, attorneys on Monday appealed to California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird to take a number of immediate steps leading to the eventual closure of the 86 Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon storage field in the San Fernando Valley.

Lawyers for the group sent a four-page letter to Laird, the Department of Conservation Director David Bunn, and Oil/Gas Supervisor Kenneth Harris. The letter demands that the state, through its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), investigate and report on the "massive methane leak.” The lawyers also requested that no new gas be injected into the facility.

The latest legal moves came as Gov. Jerry Brown toured the gas storage well leak site and met with residents in Porter Ranch. Brown is under increased pressure to do more about the situation, including declaring a state of emergency for the area.

Since the outset of the leak's discovery in late October, DOGGR and other state agencies have been investigating and overseeing the steps taken by SoCalGas to close the leak and abandon the storage well (see Daily GPIJan. 5).

Contending that Harris has the power to stop injections at any time, Save Porter Ranch attorneys said "failure to issue an order renders it impossible to determine when injections happen and when they will resume."

A DOGGR spokesperson told NGI on Tuesday that at the outset of the work to stop the leak the agency issued an oral order to stop injections followed later by a written order in early December (see Daily GPIDec. 11, 2015).

But the residents' attorneys saved their punch line for last, noting in the letter's concluding paragraph that Save Porter Ranch "demands that this facility be shut down now," adding that "if DOGGR fails to act, we plan to challenge DOGGR's inaction and to seek all available damages for the personal injuries suffered and the taking of our clients' property rights in violation of the U.S. Constitution."

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has scheduled a public hearing in the Porter Ranch area for Saturday to consider issuing an abatement order to the Sempra Energy gas utility. Save Porter Ranch called the public hearing a "legal proceeding."

SCAQMD said residents can give testimony from which the air regulators' staff could issue an order for SoCalGas "to take specific steps to abate the leak, monitor the leaking gas and reduce the impacts of nuisance odors."

The regional air quality regulators in November issued a notice of violation to SoCalGas, alleging it was creating a public nuisance in violation of state health and safety codes. SCAQMD in November also issued a notice for the gas utility to stop the leak as quickly and safely as possible. State and local officials and residents have been echoing that and taking their own separate legal actions all aimed at the deep-pocketed gas-only utility (see Daily GPIDec. 23, 2015).

The residents' attorneys have demanded that DOGGR make public all of its information on the 3,600-acre underground storage field and its 115 storage wells, "for all people to determine the risk to their families."

Save Porter Ranch wants the state oil/gas supervisor "immediately" to disclose all test data received from SoCalGas regarding the chemicals being released, including gas and petroleum showing up in the air and on the surface."

The group also is raising concerns about what other oil operators in the Aliso oilfield, which still produces small amounts of oil, are doing with their wastewater or their injection wells.

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