Emergency rules on gas storage fields could be approved Friday

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A state administrative judge could approve new emergency regulations on underground gas storage fields as early as Friday - but environmentalists said the proposal doesn't go far enough and wouldn't have prevented the leak near Porter Ranch.

"There's a lot of room for improvement, and more to go, with respect to things like making sure that well construction and maintenance and integrity is put first," said Tim O'Connor, of the Environmental Defense Fund. But he said they are an improvement.

A spokesman for the state Divison of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources, which drew up the rules, said he couldn't comment on the criticism.

The proposed regulations would require companies like SoCalGas to comply with more specific standards than exist now. Operators of underground storage fields would have to provide more data, and do more testing of gas pressure and leaks.

In a report, the agency put the cost of implementation at nearly $2 million per year in salaries for additional inspectors and other staff.

Gov. Jerry Brown's state of emergency declaration over the Porter Ranch gas leak requires state regulators to swiftly update rules for underground natural gas storage fields that have remained largely unchanged for a quarter-century.

Part of the worry is that hastily-drafted regulations would take the place of more meaningful reforms. They take up just four pages and the public comment for the regulations lasted less than a week, because the emergency declaration permits the shortened public review.

The governor's emergency declaration mandated that the new rules:

  • Require daily inspection of gas storage well heads using gas leak detecting technology such as infrared imaging
  • Require regular testing of safety valves in wells and measuring the pressure within wells.
  • Establish maximum and minimum pressure limits for each of the 14 underground storage projects in the state.
  • Require each storage site to write better risk management plans.
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