Wilk, Stern coordinating efforts on Aliso, Cemex issues

Site of proposed Cemex mine in Soledad Canyon as viewed looking northwest from Soledad Canyon Road. Signal photo by Dan Watson

Thanks to some across-the-aisle cooperation between Santa Clarita’s state senators, Scott Wilk and Henry Stern, a bill to keep the Aliso Canyon gas-storage facility closed until a root cause for its 2015 blowout is determined will get an expedited hearing on Thursday in Sacramento.

As a result of the Wilk/Stern pas de deux, Senate Bill 57 – originally authored by the Republican Wilk as a way to prevent Mexican mining giant Cemex from opening operations in Soledad Canyon – has been amended, removing the Cemex language and replacing it with the contents of a bill authored by the Democrat Stern to keep Aliso at least temporarily off line.

However, Cemex is by no means off the radar, with the language in Wilk’s anti-Cemex bill ticketed to be moved into Stern’s bill, SB 146, which will get a hearing down the line.

The reason behind this Sacramento Shuffle is because the senators have attached a more immediate urgency to the Aliso matter – with Southern California Gas pushing for a quick reopening, declaring the facility safe following some safety checks and already holding public hearings about the matter.

The Wilk/Stern move was enacted because, for a bill to get a hearing, it needs to have been published at least 30 days in advance. Stern’s original bill was published on Jan. 17, meaning it could not have had a hearing until Feb. 17, perhaps out of range to hit the pause button on the Aliso issue.

But Wilk’s bill was published Dec. 8 – making the contents of SB 57 available for a public hearing now.

The hearing will come on Thursday before the Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee, of which Stern is a member.

Wilk is listed as a co-author of the amended, Aliso-aimed, version of SB 57. Meanwhile, Stern’s office confirmed that Stern will be a co-author of Wilk’s anti-Cemex bill.

“Without any answers as to why that well failed, state regulators and the Southern California Gas Co. are poised to re-open the natural-gas storage field in February, with the tired threat of blackouts hanging over our heads,” Stern said in a recently published op-ed article, co-authored with County Supervisor Kathryn Barger of Santa Clarita’s Fifth District.

“There is no rush to re-open Aliso Canyon.”

SoCal Gas, meanwhile, maintains that, “as a result of comprehensive testing, physical changes, and the establishment of tubing flow only, SoCalGas has demonstrated that Aliso Canyon storage facility is safe to resume injection operations.”

Those tests were conducted by the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in conjunction with various independent technical experts.

However, the root cause of the October 2015 blowout in well No. SS-25 – which caused methane and other gasses to waft through Porter Ranch and prompted evacuations before finally being sealed in February 2016 – continues to be investigated by a Texas-based contractor.

Stern’s office said it was only notified of DOGGR’s intent to hold public hearings toward re-opening Aliso on Jan. 17 – just 10 minutes before the DOGGR announcement was made.

Hence the fast footwork to get the bill before the Senate committee this Thursday.

All five County Supervisors are lining up behind the Stern/Wilk bill, not just Barger.

In a Jan. 26 letter to Gov. Jerry Brown signed by all five supervisors said, “We are writing to respectfully urge your signature on County-supported SB 146 (whose contents now go by SB57), if passed by the Legislature’’ because, “the root cause analysis of the leak at Aliso Canyon has not been completed, and Southern California Gas reports it will be completed during the first half of 2017.’’

Barger’s spokesman, Tony Bell, added Monday that Barger thinks it would be “irresponsible” to again begin injecting gas into the Aliso wells until the root cause of the blowout is established.

Monday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined the chorus.

“I believe it is important for state regulators and the public to be fully aware of what caused the disastrous natural gas leak last year before proceeding to determine whether the facility is safe to reopen,’’ Feinstein said.

“Unless state regulators and the public can have confidence that the facility can be made safe, the facility should not be allowed to replenish its natural gas inventories.’’


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