Governor declares Porter Ranch gas leak a disaster

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The leaking natural gas well on a ridge above Porter Ranch was finally declared an official disaster area today by Gov. Jerry Brown. He had visited the area on Monday and there was a growing chorus of calls for the state to ramp up its efforts to oversee efforts by Southern California Gas to stop the leak, which began in late October. Several thousand residents of Porter Ranch have left their homes at least temporarily due to concerns about health issues and the potential for the escaping gas to ignite.

Rep. Brad Sherman this week called on Brown to declare the incident a disaster, triggering more public money and a higher government role. "Ultimately, SoCalGas should foot the bill for the repairs, but declaring a state of emergency would immediately free up resources and grant the necessary authority for state agencies to stop the leak in the most efficient possible way," Sherman said. "There are thousands of Porter Ranch residents who wish to return to their homes immediately. For those residents, this is an emergency.”

The methane is streaming out of an old well in the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which lies under the Santa Susana Mountains that form the northern wall of the San Fernando Valley. The bedroom community of Porter Ranch, one of the newest areas of the city of Los Angeles, climbs up the foothills of the Santa Susanas and lies just below the leaking well.

Sherman quickly praised the governor's action, as did City Councilman Mitch Englander: "The Aliso Canyon Gas leak is one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the history of California. The residents of the San Fernando Valley have suffered too much for too long. I want to thank Governor Jerry Brown for listening and responding to the thousands of residents affected by this catastrophe and for ensuring that the Southern California Gas Company bears the full financial burden."

Here is Brown's full proclamation. It orders these steps, among others:

Today's proclamation implements the following key orders:

- Stopping the Leak: All necessary and viable actions will be taken to ensure Southern California Gas Company: maximizes daily withdrawals of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for use or storage elsewhere; captures leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being completed; and identifies how it will stop the gas leak if relief wells fail to seal the leaking well, or if the existing leak worsens.

- Protecting Public Health and Safety: The state will: continue its prohibition against Southern California Gas Company injecting any gas into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility until a comprehensive review of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community utilizing independent experts is completed; expand its real-time monitoring of emissions in the community; convene an independent panel of scientific and medical experts to review public health concerns; and take all actions necessary to ensure the continued reliability of natural gas and electricity supplies in the coming months.

- Ensuring Accountability: The California Public Utilities Commission will ensure that Southern California Gas Company covers costs related to the natural gas leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers; and the state will develop a program to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane funded by the Southern California Gas Company.

- Strengthening Oversight: The state will promulgate emergency regulations for gas storage facility operators throughout the state, requiring: at least daily inspection of gas storage well heads using gas leak detection technology such as infrared imaging; ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells; ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells; regular testing of all safety valves used in wells; minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility in the state; a comprehensive risk management plan for each facility that evaluates and prepares for risks, including corrosion potential of pipes and equipment. Additionally, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission will submit to the Governor's Office a report that assesses the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California.

Under today's declaration, and at the direction of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, all state agencies will utilize state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough state response to this incident. The Governor's Office of Emergency Services will also provide frequent and timely updates to residents affected by the natural gas leak and the appropriate local officials, including convening community meetings in the coming weeks.

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