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CA Proposes New Rule to Curb Leaks at Oil, Gas Sites

Flares burn off excess gas at an oil production facility. On Tuesday California proposed new inspections to prevent leaks. (Environmental Defense Fund)
Flares burn off excess gas at an oil production facility. On Tuesday California proposed new inspections to prevent leaks. (Environmental Defense Fund)
June 1, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Oil and gas facilities, including storage wells such as the one that created a disaster this winter at Aliso Canyon, will have to undergo rigorous new inspections if a groundbreaking proposal released Tuesday by the California Air Resources Board is adopted.

The federal government just issued similar rules for new and modified equipment, but California is going one step further and requiring them for all surface facilities, existing and new -- including those that are offshore. However, Tim O'Connor, director of the California Oil and Gas Program at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, said the state left in a dangerous loophole: Companies that pass several inspections in a row can move to annual inspections after that.

"When you embed these requirements into the rule, you actually create an incentive for operators not to find leaks," he said. "So they can have no leaks and then move to a cheaper, less rigorous annual inspection requirement."

The public comment period is open now and the board will vote on this issue in late July. Representatives of the oil and gas industry have maintained that the new rules are unnecessary and expensive. But O'Connor said the cost of preventing widespread gas leaks is minuscule compared to the toll they take on people's health and the environment. In the Los Angeles area alone, he said, there are 5,000 oil and gas-producing sites that can leak toxic, cancer-causing compounds and methane gas into the air.

"When we add up those leaks," he said, "actually what's coming out of California is about three times that of Aliso Canyon every single year."

Ironically, these new rules would not have prevented the blowout at Aliso Canyon because that failure occurred underground. The state Department of Oil and Gas is working on new rules that would apply to subsurface equipment.

The proposed rules are online at arb.ca.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA