The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee approved a bill Tuesday to comprehensively reform well standards at natural gas storage facilities across California.
The legislation is being considered in the wake of an uncontrolled leak at the Aliso Canyon facility which raged for four months, forcing the relocation of 5,000 families living in the nearby Porter Ranch community, necessitating the closure of two public schools and spewing more than 100,000 metric tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
Aliso Canyon is the largest of 14 natural gas storage facilities in the state.
SB 877 by Senator Fran Pavley would require continuous monitoring of natural gas concentrations to detect leaks, require the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to regularly inspect all natural gas storage wells, limit gas injection to the internal tubing rather than the entire well casing of wells, require the use of subsurface safety valves, and impose other needed safety standards.
“We know we can’t go back to business as usual,” Senator Pavley told the committee, which she chairs. “We’ve learned a lot since that leak. We cannot allow a leak like that to happen again.”
Pavley noted that many of the relocated Porter Ranch residents in her district have yet to return to their homes even after the leak has been plugged. “They are concerned not enough safety precautions have been put in place,” she said.
The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council supports SB 877.
The bill is one of a package of Senate bills introduced in the wake of the Aliso Canyon leak. Others include Senator Pavley’s SB 380, urgency legislation that would extend a moratorium on new injections into the Aliso Canyon facility and also limit production from vintage wells until all 114 wells have undergone a regimen of testing and state energy experts certify operations can be conducted with little risk to the public.
SB 380 was unanimously approved by the Senate and approved without dissent by the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. It is now awaiting a hearing before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The well at Aliso Canyon failed at a time when Southern California Gas Co., the owner of the facility, had acknowledged the need to address well integrity issues. In 2014 it had proposed a well integrity management program to the California Public Utilities Commission, a proposal that is still pending before the commission.
The Los Angeles Times reported this month the company’s proposal sought a rate increase to pay for a “highly proactive” safety program to test all of its 229 natural gas injection wells “before they result in unsafe conditions.”
In addition to enhanced well safety standards, SB 877 would establish protocols for responding to leaks, including emergency and response training for employees, timely notice to the public, and a requirement that the process of drilling a relief well begin with 24 hours of the start of a significant leak.
Barry Broad, representing the Utility Workers Union of America, testified in support the bill, saying there is a need for “a very strong preventive safety culture” at gas storage facilities.
SB 877 was also supported by a number of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, Environment California, California Coastal Protection Network and Clean Water Action.
The bill will next be heard by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.