LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have asked President Barack Obama to convene a multi-agency task force to investigate the cause of the Aliso Canyon gas leak that forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents from their homes, and to determine if the storage facility can safely continue to operate.
Boxer, who will not be seeking re-election after her fourth term, announced the request on Wednesday, March 23, at Los Angeles City Hall where she was being honored by the City Council.
The senators are asking that the task force be headed by the Energy Department, Boxer said.
The task force would “address the serious issues related to the gas leak at Aliso Canyon and the Porter Ranch community,” Boxer said.
“I met with the people there. I know how nervous they are about returning to their homes,” she said. “What I want to say is I feel very good about this president. I feel he may well do this, and we will know if it’s safe for people, if that plant can operate safely. And we can’t rest until people are safe in their homes. So we are going to keep fighting together.”
In a letter to Obama, the senators said legislation they introduced to create a task force is “still awaiting action in the Senate.”
“But time is of the essence,” they wrote. “The people living near Aliso Canyon and the nearly 400 other underground gas storage facilities across the country cannot afford to wait.”
Boxer said the legislation “has already passed twice, once on an energy bill, but the energy bill is stuck, and another on a pipe safety bill, and that one hasn’t gone to the House.”
“So Senator Feinstein and I thought it was appropriate to ask our commander-in-chief, Barack Obama, the president, to do this administratively,” she said.
The leak from a Southern California Gas Co. well at the Alison Canyon storage facility was discovered Oct. 23. It was stopped on Feb. 11, and officially declared sealed Feb. 18.
Fearing health problems from the leaking gas, thousands of residents moved out of the area and into temporary housing funded by the Gas Co.
According to the utility, around 2,600 residents remain in temporary housing, costing SoCalGas about $1.8 million a day.
Boxer called the reports of people returning home and still getting sick “unacceptable,” and said SoCalGas should not be fighting requests by residents to extend the deadline for returning to their homes.
The gas company “better step up and keep these people out of their homes until it is absolutely a hundred percent clear that it is safe, and not restart the whole field until we know it can be safely operated. This is clear and I don’t think there is any gray areas about it,” she said.
With the backing of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, SoCalGas was planning to end funding for residents’ temporary housing on Friday, March 25. But a state appeals court issued a stay on the judge’s ruling until at least March 29.
Gas Co. officials insist there is no evidence of any lingering health threat in the area. It insisted that indoor-air testing conducted by a consultant hired by the utility found no elevated methane levels and no evidence at all of mercaptan, an odorant added to natural gas to make it detectable.
Los Angeles County health officials, however, are planning to conduct their own indoor air testing. Although they announced plans for the tests weeks ago, they haven’t started because the county was still developing a “protocol” for the testing. Health officials said the testing will begin Friday.
Health officials said they plan to test 100 Porter Ranch homes, as well as 10 homes outside the area to provide baseline readings.