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California Senate moves to keep gas company from using wells near Porter Ranch

The state Senate voted unanimously Thursday to order Southern California Gas Co. to stop using its wells at Aliso Canyon until they have been determined to be safe.

The moratorium would prevent the gas company from injecting gas into the underground storage reservoir until all 115 wells have been inspected. The legislation, which now moves to the Assembly, also would halt any withdrawals of gas from 18 of the wells that, like the leaking one, are among the oldest at the facility.

The legislation would have little immediate effect. Kristine Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the utility, said injections were stopped in late October, as the gas company sought to decrease pressure in the reservoir. The California Public Utilities Commission ordered withdrawals stopped last week.

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Gas company crews have been working for months to plug a leak from a well that dates to 1953. The leak has spewed enormous amounts of methane and forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents to temporarily relocate.

"My constituents have been on the receiving end of a natural disaster for the last three months," said state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), sponsor of the legislation. The utility could resume all operations after the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources determines the wells are safe.

The Senate's action drew mixed reactions from Porter Ranch residents.

"This legislation is a good step but not a total solution as we need a permanent shutdown of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility," said Matt Pakucko, president of the Save Porter Ranch group. "As long as this facility remains open, my community will not feel safe in their homes."

The Senate's vote came after the utilities commission ordered the owners of all underground gas storage fields in California to conduct immediate checks for leaks in wells, pipelines and compressors used for gas injection and withdrawal.

Also, DOGGR and the utilities commission have given the utility until Monday to turn over records and documents related to the Aliso Canyon field.

A DOGGR representatives said the agency does not intend to give the public access to all of the information it is collecting on the gas company's Aliso Canyon operations.

"While we are striving to make public as much information as possible, we cannot release any information related to that investigation until it is concluded," said Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation, DOGGR's parent agency.

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Schilling said the utility is complying with the agency's orders, including past demands for information.

In the hope of preventing similar leaks in the future, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) announced Thursday that he and Vice President Joe Biden would work together on new federal safety standards for the storage of natural gas. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation has the authority to regulate such standards.

"The Porter Ranch gas leak, the largest in U.S. history, occurred due to negligent operations," Sherman said. "But apparently, SoCal Gas complied with the weak state regulations and nonexistent federal regulatory efforts."

alice.walton@latimes.compaige.stjohn@latimes.com and patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 29, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "State Senate wants halt at gas site - Lawmakers vote to bar utility's use of Aliso Canyon wells." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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