A state Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday, April 4, that would prevent the reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch until an investigation is completed into the cause of a four-month methane leak from the facility.

In a released statement, Alexandra Nagy, an organizer for the Food and Water Watch environmental organization said:

“As the facility continues to sprout leaks, common sense dictates that we know the cause of the blowout before the facility can be reopened. An independent study by Los Angeles County shows that this aging, leaky facility isn’t necessary to guarantee energy to the county.”

The Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, however, amended the bill to authorize the governor to declare an emergency and temporarily allow gas injections at the facility to prevent interruptions in Southland energy supplies.

The bill will now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee before reaching the full Senate.

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 residents living in Porter Ranch. The leak began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

State regulators are reviewing proposals that would allow the Southern California Gas Company to resume injecting gas into Aliso Canyon. The state Public Utilities Commission is also investigating whether use of the facility can be reduced or eliminated altogether. 

Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, who sponsored Senate Bill 57, said the goal of the legislation “is to bring some comfort to the communities of the north valley without compromising the integrity of the grid.”

SoCalGas officials issued a statement saying the company is reviewing the legislation and amendments, but it remains convinced “that Aliso Canyon is safe and any legislation that prevents injections from resuming until the root cause analysis is completed is unnecessary.”

 SB 57 is unnecessary because a federal report has already determined that the leak occurred in the outer casing of the SS-25 well,” according to the Gas Co. Regardless of what the root cause analysis finds, the state’s comprehensive safety review has already demonstrated that the outer casings of every well approved for use are safe.”

Tony Bell, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, countered that a recent independent study showed there is no urgent need to re-inject gas at the site before a root cause analysis is conducted.

EES Consulting was hired by the county to study the utility’s claims that consumers might experience blackouts if Aliso Canyon was out of service.

The study concluded that even state regulators may have overestimated the need for Aliso Canyon to meet demand over the next 12 months. But SoCalGas has criticized the consultant’s work and pointed to state assessments as more reliable in estimating energy demand.

Nagy and other activists traveled to Sacramento Tuesday to remind legislators that in their words, “The Aliso Canyon storage facility in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles was the site of the worst gas blowout in U.S. history. It took four months to cap and more than 25,000 residents were relocated for an average of seven months.

“In November, SoCalGas asked state regulators to reopen the facility, which has been closed since the 2015 disaster, claiming that the wells have been fixed. However, the aging facility continues to develop new, smaller leaks and nearby residents suffer from ongoing symptoms such as nose bleeds, headaches, nausea, rashes and fatigue. Porter Ranch families are demanding that SoCalGas underwrite a long-term health study on the ongoing effects of the blowout,” Nagy maintained.