Pressure Continues to Build on SoCalGas Over Porter Ranch Leak

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Gurbux Singh (L) joins other Porter Ranch residents to protest outside a meeting of the Air Quality Management Board over the continuing gas leak which has forced thousands of residents to flee. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

With natural gas billowing and public pressure mounting around a broken well at Aliso Canyon, public officials this week pushed for federal and state investigations and more oversight of the troubled gas field and others like it.

On Tuesday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District filed a civil complaint alleging that Southern California Gas Co. was negligent in the operation, design, inspection and construction of the Los Angeles County facility. Through the lawsuit, the AQMD is seeking up to $250,000 in penalties for each day a violation occurred. That lawsuit came three days after an independent hearing board convened by the air district ordered the company to stop the leak, and placed new restrictions and reporting requirements on its activities in Aliso Canyon.

Then on Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission demanded the entire historic record for Standard Sesnon 25, the broken well. Regulators have given the company until Monday to turn a wide range of data and information over to the CPUC and to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the branch of the Department of Conservation primarily responsible for gas field oversight.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, who represents the area, is seeking a ban on injecting new gas into the Aliso Canyon field. The Senate rushed the bill through two committees and a full floor vote on Thursday. The gas company says it has no plans to put more gas into storage there, but Pavley has said that she believes the move is necessary to assuage the concerns of people living in Porter Ranch nearby. Sacramento lawmakers will soon consider two other bills proposing restrictions, still moving through the Senate.

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Resident Gabriel Khanlian says he’s glad that politicians and regulators are seeking more oversight, but he still wants Aliso Canyon shut down. Khanlian says he’s scared.

“For my kids, especially,” he says. “Because there have not been any long-term studies for mercaptan, and all of the other chemicals spewing out of the well right now.”

USC researchers announced this week that they’d be looking into exactly that.

Beyond all of these overlapping state efforts, California’s U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are calling for a federal investigation into the cause and problems around the facility. California’s senators want the Department of Energy to take six months to look into this gas field and others like it near urban areas.

“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.