Energy secretary says California gas leak a symptom of age

LOS ANGELES — A major gas leak near Los Angeles has brought attention to the nation’s aging energy infrastructure and points to a need for new gas storage regulations, the U.S. energy secretary said Tuesday.

Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the site of the Southern California Gas Co. well blowout to learn lessons to help frame a multiagency approach to improving safety at energy facilities nationwide.

Moniz provided no details on what might be done from a federal perspective. But he said several themes emerged after meeting with state and local officials about the leak at Aliso Canyon, the largest gas storage facility in the West.

“Regrettably, there’s a broader theme than Aliso Canyon,” Moniz said. “We have a lot of very old infrastructure in energy that we have to address for the 21st century.”

The well that ruptured was more than 60 years old and was originally drilled to pump oil from deep underground. It was reused in the 1970s to pump natural gas into the empty oil wells for storage and withdraw it when demand spiked.

Moniz said infrastructure needs to be improved so it’s smarter and more resilient. He also said regulations need a fresh look, including requirements for stronger monitoring.

“These are issues which I want to emphasize have come to light particularly strongly here in Aliso Canyon and obviously are justifiably a huge local concern,” he said. “But they also tell us about a problem we have to study more generally across the country.”

The gas leak spewed climate-changing methane uncontrollably for 16 weeks before the leak was temporarily plugged last week. The company has poured cement into the old well to seal it, but state officials still need to inspect it to determine it’s solid and not leaking before they certify it’s permanently sealed.

Moniz said testing by the state was still underway and could last through Wednesday.

Once the well is declared dead, residents being put up by SoCalGas in short-term housing, such as hotels, will have eight days to return home. Residents who signed leases for apartments and rental houses can stay as long as the end of April.

Nearly 6,500 families in the Porter Ranch community were uprooted. Many complained of symptoms ranging from nosebleeds to nausea.

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