California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday for the Porter Ranch area in the wake of the ongoing gas leak from a facility in Aliso Viejo in Southern California.
The massive leak from a Southern California Gas Company facility began in October and has prompted the relocation of thousands of households from the area. Complaints of headaches, nausea and other ailments have been widespread.
According to one estimate, more than 78,000 metric tons of methane have leaked from the storage well. That's equivalent to roughly 745 million gallons of gasoline burned, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which has tracked the leak that began Oct. 23.
"The leak itself is a volcano of climate pollution. At its peak it was putting out as much [pollution] as 7.5 million cars per day," said Tim O'Connor, EDF's director for California oil and gas.
Students have also been reassigned from schools in the area to other Los Angeles Unified School District campuses until a relief well can be completed and the problem mitigated.
The governor met with residents and toured the gas facility Monday.
“Today's proclamation builds on months of regulatory and oversight actions from seven state agencies mobilized to protect public health, oversee Southern California Gas Company's actions to stop the leak, track methane emissions, ensure worker safety, safeguard energy reliability and address any other problems stemming from the leak,” reads a statement from the governor’s office.
The state of emergency means “all state agencies will utilize state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough state response to this incident. The Governor's Office of Emergency Services will also provide frequent and timely updates to residents affected by the natural gas leak and the appropriate local officials, including convening community meetings in the coming weeks.”
Residents have complained they were not being provided with enough information from SoCal Gas in the wake of the leak, including potential health hazards and a realistic timeline for when it can be stopped.
"This has been an emergency since day one, and we are glad that the state is putting more attention and resources behind getting this leak fixed," O'Connor said.
According to Brown’s statement, the state will take the following steps:
- Stopping the Leak: All necessary and viable actions will be taken to ensure Southern California Gas Company: maximizes daily withdrawals of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for use or storage elsewhere; captures leaking gas and odorants while relief wells are being completed; and identifies how it will stop the gas leak if relief wells fail to seal the leaking well, or if the existing leak worsens.
- Protecting Public Health and Safety: The state will: continue its prohibition against Southern California Gas Company injecting any gas into the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility until a comprehensive review of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community utilizing independent experts is completed; expand its real-time monitoring of emissions in the community; convene an independent panel of scientific and medical experts to review public health concerns; and take all actions necessary to ensure the continued reliability of natural gas and electricity supplies in the coming months.
- Ensuring Accountability: The California Public Utilities Commission will ensure that Southern California Gas Company covers costs related to the natural gas leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers; and the state will develop a program to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane funded by the Southern California Gas Company.
- Strengthening Oversight: The state will promulgate emergency regulations for gas storage facility operators throughout the state, requiring: at least daily inspection of gas storage well heads using gas leak detection technology such as infrared imaging; ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells; ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells; regular testing of all safety valves used in wells; minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility in the state; a comprehensive risk management plan for each facility that evaluates and prepares for risks, including corrosion potential of pipes and equipment. Additionally, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission will submit to the Governor's Office a report that assesses the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California.
The complete statement can be found here.