A newly created federal task force issued recommendations Tuesday for addressing safe methods of natural gas storage, months after a massive gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch was capped.
In the 90-page report, the federal Department of Energy [DOE] and the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety introduced 44 specific recommendations for companies and federal agencies to improve the construction and assessment of wells and natural gas sites.
The report was created in an effort to reduce the harmful effects an uncontrolled leak can have on the surrounding environment, DOE Under Secretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr said.
"This is important for the environment because, as we saw with the Aliso Canyon incident, residents of nearby neighborhoods experienced health symptoms consistent with exposures to odorants added to the natural gas," Orr said.
The recommendations come one year after the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak began at a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility and forced thousands of residents to relocate and schools to shut down temporarily. Some 90,000 tons of methane were released into the atmosphere, making it the largest leak of methane in U.S. history, according to a study published in Science journal. Even after the leak was capped in February, many residents in surrounding neighborhoods complained of nausea and nosebleeds.
"This report is an important first step toward protecting our communities from suffering another crisis like the one we saw at Aliso Canyon," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a press release. "This disaster sickened residents, forced thousands to leave their homes, temporarily closed schools and hurt local businesses."
According to Boxer's press release, the creation of the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety came after she and her California colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to President Barack Obama, explaining the need for a task force.
"The recommendations from this task force would reduce the chance of future gas leaks while also strengthening protections for public health and the environment," Boxer said.
The recommendations outlined in this report are mostly preventative, although, it is not possible for officials to completely stop the leakage disasters, Orr said.
"We can never guarantee that future leaks won't occur, but we believe that the recommendations outlined in this report will reduce their likelihood and minimize the impacts of any that do occur," Orr said.
Three significant pieces of the report revolve around the structure of the wells, a leak's impact on people's health and the environment, and energy reliability in the face of a leak. The report suggests that local officials clearly inform neighborhoods of the situation as well as establish emergency plans to mitigate greenhouse gases.
Orr said the most noteworthy suggestions of the report have to do with perfecting the design of the wells and acting upon a problem before it is too late.
"There are many important steps highlighted by the research in this report" such as "phasing out single-barrier well designs in the long term," and "implementing rigorous monitoring and well integrity evaluation activities in the near term to identify and address problems before they can cause a serious leak," she said.
The task force concluded that the Aliso Canyon leak could have been avoided if the well was structured in a way that offered more protection. The well only had one barrier to prevent leakages. The report states that if the well had an additional barrier, the leak may not have occurred at the scale it did, or at all.
SoCalGas has already implemented some improvements to their system that are consistent with the report's recommendations. The gas company has added an inner tubing that will serve as a secondary barrier. In a statement released Wednesday, the company said, "SoCalGas has cooperated fully with the Task Force and is committed to supporting forward-looking and reasonable regulations that promote safety at natural gas storage facilities."
Orr said the report also suggests that states have backup, alternative sources (to natural gas) of energy and power.
"Natural gas plays an important role in our nation's energy landscape," she said. "We need to make sure the associated infrastructure is strong enough to maintain energy reliability, protect public health, and preserve our environment."
SoCalGas has had to pay approximately $717 million in costs related to the leak. About $500 million of this total was to relocate 8,000 families that had to leave the area during the leak. The company is also being criminally charged and sued by government agencies.
Reach Staff Reporter Simrin Singh here.