Porter Ranch gas leak: Gov. Brown declares the leak an emergency

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California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday over the natural gas leak that has driven thousands of residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles from their homes over the past two months.

The governor’s move reverses his previous resistance to repeated public calls for an emergency declaration. Still, it wasn’t the sort of declaration that allows the governor to waive certain laws or clear the way to spend added state or federal funds.

L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents that portion of the San Fernando Valley, said the declaration gives the state more power over how SoCal Gas responds to the leak.

“He added a lot of the teeth that had been missing,” Englander said of the governor’s order.

It orders the company to do more to capture the leaking methane to keep it from adding to the state’s load of greenhouse gases. It requires the gas company to disclose its next plan to plug the leaking well if the current plan to close it fails.

"Our focus remains on quickly and safely stopping the leak and minimizing the impact to our neighbors in Porter Ranch," Dennis Arriola, president and CEO of SoCal Gas, said in a statement. "SoCal Gas reaffirms our prior commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of the actual amount of natural gas released from the leak."

The governor’s declaration  expands air quality monitoring and convenes an independent panel to assess the health risks and impacts of the gas leak. SoCal Gas would pay that cost.

The order also calls for daily inspection of all similar wells in the state. The leaking well in the Aliso Canyon gas storage field is one of 115 gas injection wells, many of them 60 years or older.

Paula Cracium, president of Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, said she was grateful for the declaration, and not concerned that it falls short of one that would mobilize federal funds for her neighborhood to cope with the gas leak.

“It appears he’s responsive to the conversation we had a few days ago,” Cracium said. “Much of what we discussed is in that declaration."

A press release from Brown's office said that the proclamation comes due to the "prolonged and continuing duration of the Aliso Canyon gas leak," as well as coming at the request of both residents and local officials.

Brown met with Porter Ranch residents and toured the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility earlier this week.

Read the full emergency proclamation below:

PROCLAMATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY
 
WHEREAS on October 23, 2015, a natural gas leak was discovered at a well within the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in Los Angeles County, and Southern California Gas Company’s attempts to stop the leak have not yet been successful; and
 
WHEREAS many residents in the nearby community have reported adverse physical symptoms as a result of the natural gas leak, and the continuing emissions from this leak have resulted in the relocation of thousands of people, including many schoolchildren; and
 
WHEREAS major amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, have been emitted into the atmosphere; and
 
WHEREAS the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources issued an emergency order on December 10, 2015 prohibiting injection of natural gas into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility until further authorized; and
 
WHEREAS seven state agencies are mobilized to protect public health, oversee Southern California Gas Company’s actions to stop the leak, track methane emissions, ensure worker safety, safeguard energy reliability, and address any other problems stemming from the leak; and
 
WHEREAS the California Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources—working closely with federal, state and local authorities including the California Attorney General and the Los Angeles City Attorney—have instituted investigations of this natural gas leak and have ordered an independent, third-party analysis of the cause of the leak; and
 
NOW, THEREFORE, given the prolonged and continuing duration of this natural gas leak and the request by residents and local officials for a declaration of emergency, I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, in accordance with the authority vested in me by the State Constitution and statutes, including the California Emergency Services Act, HEREBY PROCLAIM A STATE OF EMERGENCY to exist in Los Angeles County due to this natural gas leak.
 
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
 
1. All agencies of state government shall utilize all necessary state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough response to this incident, as directed by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the State Emergency Plan.
 
2. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, in exercising its responsibility to coordinate relevant state agencies, shall provide frequent and timely updates to residents affected by the natural gas leak and the appropriate local officials, including convening community meetings.
 
STOPPING THE LEAK
 
3. The California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission shall take all actions necessary to ensure that Southern California Gas Company maximizes daily withdrawals of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for use or storage elsewhere.
 
4. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shall direct Southern California Gas Company to take any and all viable and safe actions to capture leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being completed.
 
5. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shall require Southern California Gas Company to identify how it will stop the gas leak if pumping materials through relief wells fails to close the leaking well, or if the existing leak worsens.
 
6. The Division shall take necessary steps to ensure that the proposals identified by Southern California Gas Company pursuant to Directives 4 and 5 are evaluated by the panel of subject matter experts the Division has convened from the Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories to evaluate Southern California Gas Company’s actions.
 
PROTECTING PUBLIC SAFETY
 
7. The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources shall continue its prohibition against Southern California Gas Company injecting any gas into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility until a comprehensive review, utilizing independent experts, of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community is completed.
 
8. The California Air Resources Board, in coordination with other agencies, shall expand its real-time monitoring of emissions in the community and continue providing frequent, publicly accessible updates on local air quality.
 
9. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment shall convene an independent panel of scientific and medical experts to review public health concerns stemming from the gas leak and evaluate whether additional measures are needed to protect public health beyond those already put in place.
 
10. The California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission, in coordination with the California Independent System Operator, shall take all actions necessary to ensure the continued reliability of natural gas and electricity supplies in the coming months during the moratorium on gas injections into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
 
ENSURING ACCOUNTABILITY
 
11. The California Public Utilities Commission shall ensure that Southern California Gas Company cover costs related to the natural gas leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers.
 
12. The California Air Resources Board, in consultation with appropriate state agencies, shall develop a program to fully mitigate the leak’s emissions of methane by March 31, 2016. This mitigation program shall be funded by the Southern California Gas Company, be limited to projects in California, and prioritize projects that reduce short-lived climate pollutants.
 
STRENGTHENING OVERSIGHT OF GAS STORAGE FACILITIES
 
13. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shall promulgate emergency regulations requiring gas storage facility operators throughout the state to comply with the following new safety and reliability measures:
 
a.            Require at least a daily inspection of gas storage well heads, using gas leak detection technology such as infrared imaging.
b.            Require ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells.
c.             Require ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells.
d.            Require regular testing of all safety valves used in wells.
e.            Establish minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility in the state.
f.             Require each storage facility to establish a comprehensive risk management plan that evaluates and prepares for risks at each facility, including corrosion potential of pipes and equipment.
 
14. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission shall submit to the Governor’s Office a report that assesses the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California. The report should address operational safety and potential health risks, methane emissions, supply reliability for gas and electricity demand in California, and the role of storage facilities and natural gas infrastructure in the State’s long-term greenhouse gas reduction strategies. This report shall be submitted within six months after the completion of the investigation of the cause of the natural gas well leak in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
 
I FURTHER DIRECT that as soon as hereafter possible, this proclamation be filed in the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given of this proclamation.
 
IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 6th day of January 2016.
 
__________________________
EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Governor of California
 
ATTEST:
 
__________________________
ALEX PADILLA
Secretary of State

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