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By Carolyn Whetzel
Jan. 11 — California lawmakers Jan. 11 proposed legislation to halt new injections of natural gas and the use of older production wells at the reservoir near Los Angeles where a 1950s-era well has been leaking methane since October.
The proposal would halt injections until state officials and outside experts can determine the facility doesn't pose a threat to public health or safety.
State Sen. Fran Pavley (D) announced the bill (S.B. 875) and other measures related to the ongoing leak at a news conference held near the scene of the leaking gas, a facility in Aliso Canyon operated by Southern California Gas Co.
Meanwhile, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has asked its hearing board to approve an agreement negotiated with SoCalGas allowing installation of equipment to partially capture and incinerate some of the natural gas leaking from the field while the utility continues to work on a permanent way to stop the leak.
SoCalGas, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has said it needs at least another two months to stop the leak, a complicated project that involves drilling a relief well (248 DEN A-9, 12/29/15).
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared the natural gas leak an emergency Jan. 6 and directed state and local agencies to take steps to address the leak, mitigate its impacts and reduce the risk of more leaks (04 DEN A-14, 1/7/16).
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said Jan. 11 that the county has joined its lawsuit, filed in December, to hold SoCalGas accountable for the leak (People of the state of Cal. v. S. Cal. Gas Co., Cal. Sup. Ct., No. BC602973, 1/7/16).
“L.A. County joining our suit is an important development in continued push to end this disaster, get relief for residents and ensure nothing like this happens again,” Feuer said in a written statement.
SoCalGas is paying to relocate Porter Ranch residents affected by the leak.
The SCAQMD hearing board met Jan. 9 to consider the proposed abatement order and take public comment.
If issued, the order would clear the way for SoCalGas to build “an interim gas capture and control system,” the proposal said. Some of the leaking gas would be collected and routed to portable control equipment for treatment or destruction.
SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 11 e-mail that more information would become available on the gas capture and disposal plan, perhaps later this week.
“We're in the process of reviewing the portable equipment permits,” Atwood said.
The abatement order aims to address a notice the SCAQMD issued against SoCalGas in November, alleging violations of state Health and Safety code Section 41700 and the air district's Rule 402 for creating a public nuisance by discharging emissions into nearby communities.
Under the proposed order, SoCalGas must, as quickly as possible: stop the leak; capture all leaking gas; use all gas from the reservoir; stop all leaks; inspect and maintain all wells; monitor all emissions from the well and reservoir; hire a third party to conduct a health study; and fund projects to mitigate the greenhouse gas impacts and restore value to the surrounding community.
Along with imposing a moratorium on new injections of natural gas at the facility, the legislative package Pavley and other lawmakers have proposed would require the utility to use its profits, not ratepayer funds, to cover the cost of relocating residents and mitigating the leak. It also would designate the California Office of Emergency Services as the lead agency to respond to future natural gas leaks. The bills also seek to strengthen existing laws for natural gas storage facilities and well standards and requirements to guard against similar leaks.
The bills “will ensure this kind of tragedy won't happen again,” Pavley said. “And we are taking steps to ensure the return of homes and business to Porter Ranch so they can have a safe place to live and work.”
In a written statement, the environmental group Food & Water Watch said the legislation “is an important first step toward the complete shutdown of Aliso Canyon.” Closing the facility is “the only real way to prevent” future harm to the residents, the group said.
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