A group of state senators announced a new package of legislation this morning aimed at tightening regulation of gas storage facilities in the wake of the ongoing blowout near Porter Ranch.

State Sen. Fran Pavley said the legislation would address the issue of safety valves. As the Weekly reported last month, Southern California Gas Co. removed a safety valve from the leaking well in 1979. Such a valve, which could have been used to control the well, is required only for wells that are within 300 feet of a home. The leaking well, which has forced thousands of people to relocate, is more than a mile from the nearest residence.

Speaking at a press conference at the entrance to the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, Pavley said the existing regulation is outdated.

“Three hundred feet is not enough. It should be a far greater distance,” she said. “I don’t have that magic number but definitely more than a mile. We can do better.”

The gas company first noticed the leak on Oct. 23. Since then, the well has released tens of millions of kilograms of methane into the atmosphere, accounting for a 21% increase in the state's total methane emissions. In a securities filing, SoCalGas said it has already spent $50 million on efforts to stop the leak and on relocation of 2,500 families in Porter Ranch. The company estimates that a relief well could stop the leak by the end of February or late March.

At the press conference, Pavley was joined by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, the president pro tem of the senate. De Leon said the legislative response to the leak would be bipartisan.

Pavley, who represents Porter Ranch and chairs the committee that oversees drilling regulations, said more should be done to verify the integrity of aging infrastructure. The leaking well was drilled in 1953, and dozens of other wells at the Aliso Canyon field are also decades old.

“We needed to have more inspections,” she said. “We need to err on the side of caution.”

Pavley also proposed a moratorium on injection into the storage field until outside experts can determine that the wells are safe. SoCalGas has said it has not injected gas into the facility since Oct. 25, and is drawing gas out as quickly as possible in order to lower the pressure inside the reservoir and reduce the rate of the leak.

In response to today's announcement, SoCalGas spokeswoman Melissa Bailey said the company “appreciates the legislators’ interest in the topic and looks forward to participating in the public discussion.”

LA Weekly