Responding to lessons learned from the massive Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill by Senator Fran Pavley to establish proactive safety standards for natural gas storage wells.
Among provisions in SB 887 are requirements for continuous monitoring for leaks, regular inspections of wells to test their mechanical integrity, and that all wells be equipped with safeguards to ensure that no single point of failure can result in a leak.
The standards in the bill are aligned with new regulations proposed by the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, and could become a national model for safety reforms.
“Aliso Canyon was a wake-up call that revealed the disastrous consequences of not aggressively testing and monitoring our energy infrastructure,” said Senator Pavley. “These reforms will change the safety paradigm from one of responding to problems after they happen to one of proactively preventing them before they occur.”
SB 887 was approved on overwhelming, bipartisan votes in both houses of the Legislature – 36-2 in the Senate, and 75-1 in the Assembly.
The leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Alison Canyon gas storage field, the largest in the Western United States, began last Oct. 23 and raged uncontrolled for nearly four months. Before it was capped, nearly 100,000 tons of methane were released into the atmosphere.
The leak disrupted life and fouled the air in the San Fernando Valley. Residents of nearby Porter Ranch were sickened by noxious odors, suffering from nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and other maladies. The disaster forced the relocation of more than 8,000 families and the closure of two public schools.
In a visit to the site while the leak was ongoing, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said the disaster showed the need for “a fresh look” at gas storage safety standards nationwide. At a conference in Colorado this summer, experts pointed to the proposed California standards as a potential national model for comprehensive safety reforms.
In May, Gov. Brown signed urgency legislation authored by Senator Pavley, SB 380, which established a rigorous protocol of safety testing for all wells at Aliso Canyon and prohibited a resumption of gas injections until all wells either pass the regimen of six tests or are plugged and isolated from the reservoir. That testing continues, and injections have not yet resumed at the facility.
SB 887 builds upon the urgency legislation by establishing permanent safety standards that will apply to wells at all 14 natural gas storage fields in California. They include facilities near Playa del Rey, Santa Clarita and Goleta which, like Aliso Canyon, are in close proximity to populated areas.
Among the safety requirements in SB 887 are:
* Continuous monitoring of natural gas concentrations.
* Wells must be equipped with redundant safety mechanisms to ensure that no single point of failure can result in a leak. Such mechanisms include subsurface safety valves and using tubes inside of well casings to inject and extract gas. Those features must be considered by DOGGR in its regulations.
* Regular testing of all wells, with a full set of testing of each well begun by Jan. 1, 2018.
* Development of a risk management plan for each facility that will include the prepositioning of equipment needed to respond to a leak and a process for publicly notifying all parties within a 2-mile radius within 48 hours of a leak being detected.
* An assessment of potential impacts to human health by the California Public Utilities Commission that will lead to the establishment of minimum setbacks to separate new wells from homes, schools and other sensitive facilities.