U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer want Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to review the cause of and response to the natural gas leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.
Next week the California Democrats will try to add an amendment to energy legislation under consideration in the Senate. It would require Moniz to conduct a review and make recommendations about stopping the leak and preventing future ones.
“It has been very frustrating to watch this Aliso Canyon crisis unfold -- almost in slow motion –-- without any clear remedy,” Boxer said in a statement. “It is time to put our brightest minds to work to analyze and make recommendations that would not only assist in Aliso Canyon, but would also help us prevent and respond to similar incidents across the country.”
The leak, which began in October, has forced some 3,000 Porter Ranch families from their homes. State officials have halted Southern California Gas Co.’s operations, but the leak hasn't been stopped. On Thursday, state lawmakers moved to ban the injection of new gas into 1950s-era wells in Aliso Canyon until experts can certify it is safe.
The California Public Utilities Commission is studying the effects of permanently shutting down the gas field.
Earlier this month, Feinstein and Boxer urged federal agencies in a letter to play a more active role to help California stop the leak.
Responding to questions from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) on Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both committed to push for national gas storage standards. Sherman told The Times later that Obama pledged to follow through.
Though the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has the authority to regulate natural gas storage safety standards, it has left regulation of Aliso Canyon and most other storage facilities to the states.
If the amendment is added to the Senate energy bill, and it passes, Moniz’s six-member task force would have six months to report back to Congress and the president on whether to keep open the Aliso Canyon gas field and similar facilities near populated areas. The task force would include representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Interior. The group would be required to make periodic reports about their findings.
“We have a responsibility not only to address this leak, but also to ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This amendment, which directs the government to look at the cause of the leak and the response, will provide valuable lessons on how we can keep communities all around the country safe from similar situations.”
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