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LA Moves to Ban New Gas Wells in Wake of Leak

LOS ANGELES (CN) - In response to the massive Porter Ranch gas leak, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday called for a moratorium on new gas wells until existing and decades-old facilities are made safe.

The resolution, tabled by council members Mitch Englander and Herb Wesson, passed with a 15-0 vote.

The measures could allow the city to take legal or administrative action to impose tougher regulations on oil and gas storage facilities after the gas leak that began at the SoCalGas natural gas storage facility in Northridge on Oct. 23.

Subject to approval by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the recommendation for council action asks energy companies to improve their safety plans to prevent another environmental disaster like the one at Aliso Canyon.

The city council also voted to approve a motion that asks SoCalGas to move people from neighboring communities other than Porter Ranch.

Englander said the moratorium would be part of a legislative package that the city is presenting to state lawmakers in Sacramento.

"This for the most part has been an unchecked industry - a self-regulated industry with voluntary assessment of all of the wells," Englander said on the council floor. "There's absolutely no reason in today's world where I have more technology in my cellphone than these newest wells have on-site, that we can't make sure that they have real-time monitoring on every single well."

If approved by the mayor, the city would resolve to sponsor and support legislation and administrative action that asks energy companies to disclose publicly the age and number of wells at their gas facilities, and to release inspection reports.

The city would also require companies to disclose the current state of emergency wells.

The leaking, 61-year-old SS-25 well at Aliso was missing a sub-surface safety valve that SoCalGas could have used to shut the well down.

SoCalGas and regulators allegedly knew as early as 1979 that the valve needed to be replaced.

Company executive Rodger Schwecke has said the valve was never replaced because the company did not consider the well "critical" and the parts were "not easy" to find, according to court records.

The city would establish a moratorium for new gas wells and storage wells until they are in line with safety standards and ask companies to immediately disclose gas leaks to both officials and exposed neighborhoods.

Another measure would require gas companies to install up-to-date technology to monitor and prevent leaks, report to government agencies each year with safety, prevention and emergency plans and improve emergency response times.

Englander noted that SoCalGas did not have emergency equipment it needed to respond to the crisis.

"There's no reason that they're operating the largest facility west of the Mississippi and they didn't have a contingency plan. That to me is gross negligence - the fact that they didn't have the equipment necessary in case and in the event that something like this happened," Englander said. "They had to go out and hire outside experts that weren't here locally on-site, which took months."

The city would also support a measure to ensure that the cost to repair leaks and the actual cost of environmental damage and greenhouse gas pollution is not passed on to ratepayers or taxpayers.

So far, SoCalGas has offered temporary relocation to thousands of Porter Ranch residents adjacent to the facility. But Englander says that communities in Granada Hills, Chatsworth and Northridge have also been impacted.

The city council voted unanimously in support of motion that asks SoCalGas to respond to all reasonable relocation requests, including those outside a 5-mile radius based on verified complaints.

Englander said that the South Coast Air Quality Management District's own data shows that there have been complaints beyond that boundary.

SoCalGas began drilling a relief well to stop the leak this past December and said last week that the project is advancing ahead of schedule. The well should be sealed by late February or sooner, the company said.

Englander said after the council meeting that he had heard reports that SoCalGas was refusing to relocate residents in surrounding communities, including those in Porter Ranch. He said the City Attorney Office's had called the energy company and reminded them that a court order requires the company to provide relocation within 72 hours.

It is "unreasonable" for more than 2,445 people to be on a waiting list for relocation, the politician added.

Englander submitted another motion Tuesday that asks LA Sanitation to offer sewer and trash fee refunds or adjustments to customers displaced by the leak.

Noting that it had been 96 days since the leak began, Englander said that more than 3,600 households had been relocated, 2,000 children had been displaced by the leak and two schools have closed.

Residents surrounding the storage field have complained of nose bleeds, nausea, dizziness, aches, pains and fatigue.

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