It took a while, but Gov. Jerry Brown finally declared a state of emergency at Porter Ranch, where a 75-day-old natural gas leak has forced thousands of people from their homes. For weeks residents and elected officials have called on Brown to elevate the catastrophic leak to emergency status, which, they said, could help make state funding available to aid the community. But the fiscally conservative governor has been wary of using the designation — and rightfully so — because he didn’t want to taxpayers to get stuck with costs that are the responsibility of Southern California Gas Co. His proclamation makes clear that the gas company, and not the taxpayers or the utility’s ratepayers, will be responsible for all expenses related to the leak at the company’s nearby Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.
The leaking well at Aliso Canyon has emitted as much greenhouse gas as 330,000 passenger vehicles produce in a year.
While much of the announcement Wednesday formalizes what state agencies have already required of the gas company, the proclamation also begins to address environmental and safety issues facing underground gas storage facilities that have largely gone unnoticed until now.
The dozen gas fields in the state can dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions if they are not controlled. The primary component of natural gas is methane, a potent heat-trapping pollutant that hastens climate change. The leaking well at Aliso Canyon, as of Dec. 22, had emitted as much greenhouse gas as 330,000 passenger vehicles produce in a year. Brown’s proclamation says that the gas company will be responsible for funding projects to cut greenhouse gas pollution and offset the methane emitted from the leaking well.
Brown also directed state energy and environmental agencies to study the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in the state, both from a safety and climate change perspective. That’s essential. The Porter Ranch leak makes clear the hidden costs of our dependence on fossil fuels. As long as California needs natural gas, the state has an obligation to strictly regulate operations to protect residents. But the ultimate goal should be cleaner, safer energy sources.
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