The task force aims to investigate how the Aliso Canyon leak happened, why it took so long to fix and how to prevent future leaks.
President Barack Obama has agreed to convene a multi- agency task force to investigate the cause of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak and determine ways to prevent a similar incident from occurring, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein announced today.
Boxer, who last week joined Feinstein in requesting that Obama set up the committee, said 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 Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz assured her 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."
The leak discovered last October forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents from their homes. With the emissions now stopped, health officials are testing homes in the area to ensure those who relocated can safely return and others who live there are not harmed.
Feinstein 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-is an important, much-needed step," she said.
Feinstein added that she feels the gas storage facility "should be shut down, and it's my hope the task force comes to the same conclusion."
"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," she said.
The Obama administration announced in a blog post today that the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety will be convened and co- chaired by Lynn Orr, the Energy Department's undersecretary for science and energy, and Marie Therese Dominguez of the Transportation Department.
Orr has expertise in subsurface science and Dominguez leads the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
In the blog spot, the co-chairs praised the cooperation of local and state agencies in reacting to the leak, but added "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," Orr and Dominguez said.
The Energy Department plans to host workshops to create "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," they wrote.
Findings made by the task force will be released later this year in order to "help companies and states avoid future incidents," the federal officials said.
The task force will also include "technical experts" from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Interior, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The panel will also offer technical assistance to the state, Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles.
The co-chairs also noted that it was important for the federal agencies to get involved "because natural gas is a relatively clean fuel that provides heat to millions of American homes and is expected to provide a third of our nation's total electric power generation this year."
"We have made it a priority to support states and industry to ensure our infrastructure is safe, and this task force's efforts will be an important step forward as we continue to work towards protecting public health and safety and making progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," they wrote.
The news of the task force came as the South Coast Air Quality Management announced that it has awarded $600,000 for the first phase of a health study into the gas leak's effects on those living in Porter Ranch and nearby areas.
"This critical study will provide valuable information concerning the health impacts of the leak," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who sits on the AQMD board. "It's imperative that we move forward as soon as possible with the study. The Gas Company needs to be held accountable for the gas leak's short-term and long-term impact on residents and the environment."