Above image of Aliso Canyon methane gas leak was filmed in December 2015, with FLIR camera by certified thermographer Pete Dronkers, Earthworks Southwest Circuit Rider
In a move that doesn’t appear to be an April fool’s joke, the Obama administration today launched the shiny new Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety.
Lynn Orr, undersecretary for science and energy (Dept of Energy-DOE) and Marie Therese Dominguez, administrator of the Dept of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), will co-chair the multi-agency task force which will investigate how the Aliso Canyon methane gas leak happened, why it took so long to plug, and how to prevent future disasters.
The massive methane leak was discovered at Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility last October and the toxic emissions forced tens of thousands of Porter Ranch residents from their homes. Scientists said the global warming potential of the release, which was not plugged until February, was equal to the annual carbon emissions of nearly 600,000 cars. With the emissions now under control, health officials are testing homes in the area to ensure residents can return and not continue to be further exposed to harmful chemicals.
In a blog post today at Energy.gov, the administration said:
… Industry actions that led to the recent natural gas leak at California’s Aliso Canyon site underscored the serious risk that these storage facilities can pose. Shortly after the Aliso Canyon leak was controlled, we were able to visit the site of the leak to hear from local officials and experts. The visit allowed us to see the magnitude and gravity of this situation, and how it impacted people in California and the environment. It was incredible to see the spirit of partnership and collaboration between State and local agencies across California – along with support from Federal partners – to respond to this incident and to ensure it was resolved safely. Even so, the fact that this leak happened in the first place, the length of time that it took to fix, and the disruption that it caused for so many people are very concerning. That’s why we are launching this interagency Task Force, to help companies ensure that no community has to go through something like that again.
Specifically, DOE will hold workshops with industry, state and local leaders, and other interested stakeholders to support them in the development of best practices for ensuring well integrity and proper response plans, safe operations of storage facilities, and assess the potential vulnerabilities to energy reliability posed by the loss of use of storage facilities. To help companies and states avoid future incidents, the findings from the Task Force will be summarized and made public later this year.
To encourage companies to inspect storage wells as soon as possible, PHMSA recently issued an advisory bulletin that encouraged operators to review and implement American Petroleum Institute (API) and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) Recommended Practices, and will also initiate regulatory actions to help ensure the safety of natural gas storage facilities across the country, which may include requiring operators to follow some or all of the industry consensus standards recommended by PHMSA’s recent safety bulletin …
Technical experts from other federal agencies will also be involved in the task force, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Interior, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in a statement she is “gratified that President Obama understands that we must make sure that what happened in Aliso Canyon never happens again, and the task force he has appointed will report back in six months on how to do just that.” She said that Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz assured her on Thursday that “the task force will work with state and local officials to resolve all outstanding issues, including whether Aliso Canyon can operate safely in the future, in order to protect our people and our planet.”
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said: “The federal government has a responsibility to make sure nothing like the leak at Aliso Canyon ever happens again. The task force will bring together top government experts to explore the cause of and response to the leak. This is an important, much-needed step.”
However Feinstein added that the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility “should be shut down, and it’s my hope the task force comes to the same conclusion.” She said, “It’s imperative to protect the health and safety of local residents, and having this facility so close to a subdivision is simply too dangerous.”
In a statement just released, Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill said:
“Earthworks is heartened that the Obama administration is looking to prevent future Aliso Canyons. Hundreds of similar underground natural gas storage facilities across the country are at risk for the similar disasters for community and climate.
“There should be zero tolerance for methane leaks. Now that some regulators are finally looking at these facilities, that could mean shutting down many of them. Just a week ago the California Public Utilities Commission released its first ever survey of these sites revealing 229 leaks.
“With the formation of this task force, and EPA’s movement to regulate oil and gas methane pollution at new and existing operations, it’s clear the Obama administration is very concerned by the dangers posed by methane pollution. We hope that concern will be followed by appropriate action. We have to face facts. And the fact is that natural gas is a dirty fuel.”
Sierra Club’s Washington Representative Jessica Eckdish released the following statement:
“We welcome the Obama administration’s effort to prevent disasters like the Porter Ranch leak from happening again. This task force is well-equipped to uncover the answers needed to protect communities and our climate from the dangers of deadly methane pollution, and I am encouraged by the stakeholder engagement process outlined today.
“While I hope that this task force will act swiftly to improve the safety of natural gas storage in the near term, the Aliso Canyon leak and ongoing methane leaks around the country underscore the fact that fossil fuels can never be made safe. Ultimately, we must transition to clean, renewable energy sources and leave dirty fuels in the ground.”