While the clamor grows loud to shut down the natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon well near Porter Ranch that residents say has been making them sick and forcing them to leave their homes in mass since Oct. 23, a group of state senators have proposed a series of measures to deal with the ongoing crisis and avoid a repeat in the future.
“This is a challenge and a tragedy, and we can do better,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-27th District), who represents the affected area of the Northwest San Fernando Valley.
The package of emergency bills, which would require approval by a two-thirds majority — and would go into effect immediately if passed — call for a moratorium on injections into the Aliso Canyon storage facility, where the leaking well is located, until outside experts can determine that the wells “are safely operated and do not pose a risk to people,” Pavley said.
Additionally, the legislation would require safety valves, which were removed from the ruptured gas well, to be installed in all wells beyond the current 300-ft. limit from a home.
The Southern California Gas company (SoCalGas), which owns the leaking well, has said it has not injected gas into the facility since Oct. 25, and is drawing the gas out as quickly as possible to lower the pressure inside the reservoir and reduce the rate of the leak.
The leaking well that forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents to move is operating more than a mile from the nearest residence.
“Three hundred feet is not far enough,” said Pavley, speaking at a Jan. 11 press conference outside the Aliso Canyon well field, surrounded by other state legislators, community activists and Porter Ranch residents.
“I don’t have that magic number, but definitely more than a mile. We can do better,” Pavley said.
Another proposed bill would require that these and other wells be inspected within the next 12 months, and annually, thereafter, to avoid similar occurrences. In addition, independent medical reviews would be conducted on the long-term effects the leak may have on residents’ health.
For residents, this legislation gives “teeth and stickiness” to all the other measures being implemented to deal with the gas leak, said Paula Cracium, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council.
“The leak isn’t fixed yet and we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again or in other areas,” Cracium said.
Unlike other Porter ranch residents, Cracium hasn’t applied for relocation because she lives further away from the leak, and doesn’t entirely support the effort to permanently shut down the gas storage operation at Aliso Canyon.
“Everything has to be on the table,” Cracium said. “If (SoCalGas) can make it safer, then I think much of the community will be okay with them continuing operations.”
However, resident Susan Gorman-Chang — who showed up to the press conference wearing a protective mask and a “Shut it all off” sign — believes there is no safe way to deal with the problem in the long run.
“It’s too old. It will never be repaired completely. It needs to be shut down,” said Gorman-Chang, who relocated to West Hills before Thanksgiving.
“I’m glad we have all this attention on it right now. But they need to shut this facility down.”
The gas leak, which has been spewing methane into the atmosphere for more than two months, is also having an impact on the state’s anti-pollution efforts.
At one point, it was emitting gas equivalent to seven million automobiles, according to state Sen. Ben Allen (D-26th District).
“We have ruined all the hard work we’ve done in the state to reduce greenhouse emissions,” Allen said. “This leak is now the largest source of pollution in the state.”
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León concurred.
“This undermines the efforts to curb pollution at the state level,” he said, noting that the leaking facility in Porter Ranch accounts for an estimated 25 percent of California’s daily methane emissions.
Fixing The Leak
SoCalGas officials plan to install equipment to capture the methane, carry it to a safe distance from the facility, remove fluids from the gas and then incinerate it or filter out the odorants.
The system would be installed in two phases, and could ultimately incinerate up to 20 million standard cubic feet per day or filter odorant out of 14 million cubic feet per day.
The proposed abatement order discussed at a public meeting at Granada Hills Charter High School on Saturday, Jan 9, would also require SoCalGas to continuously monitor the well with an infrared camera to improve monitoring of the leak, stop all injection of gas into the well, withdraw the maximum amount of gas possible from the well and provide data collected by SoCalGas or its contractors since late October to determine the amount of methane that has escaped from the well.
SoCalGas would also be required to submit a plan to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) for an enhanced leak-detection and well-inspection program. The order also commits SoCalGas officials to funding a health study on the impacts of exposure to the leaking gas.
The hearing at Granada Hills High continues on Saturday, Jan. 16, starting at 9 a.m.
Another public meeting is planned at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15, located at 19700 Rinaldi St., on the southwest corner of Rinaldi and Corbin streets. Gov. Jerry Brown, who last week declared a state emergency over the gas leak, is expected to attend.
Meanwhile, SoCalGas is in the process of digging relief wells officials expect to allow the company to cap the leak. That process, however, is not expected to be completed until February or March.
For its part, SoCalGas officials said in a statement that “Our focus remains on quickly and safely stopping the leak and minimizing the impact to our neighbors in Porter Ranch. SoCalGas reaffirms our prior commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of the actual amount of natural gas released from the leak. We look forward to working with state officials to develop a framework that will achieve this goal.
“As we have since this incident began, SoCalGas stands willing and ready to cooperate with the Governor’s office, all state and local officials, and regulatory agencies.”