Sempra's California Gas Leak Should See U.S. Probe: Senators

  • California's Boxer and Feinstein assail `slow-motion' response
  • Thousands evacuated after many complain of nausea, nosebleeds

Two U.S. senators want the federal government to investigate a Sempra Energy natural gas leak near Los Angeles that has forced thousands into temporary housing and raised concerns that the emissions may be making people sick.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein want to create a task force led by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to look into the cause of the leak at a storage cavern in Aliso Canyon and Sempra’s response, the California Democrats said in a statement Friday. The review should also include recommendations for stopping the leak and for preventing future releases, according to the statement.

“It has been very frustrating to watch this Aliso Canyon crisis unfold -- almost in slow motion -- without any clear remedy,” Boxer said.

Sempra discovered the leak, which has spewed the equivalent pollution of about 400,000 cars a year, on Oct. 23. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Jan. 6. More than 3,000 families from the Porter Ranch neighborhood, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the broken well, were forced to relocate after many reported dizziness, nausea and nosebleeds, according to the statement.

Cooperation Promised

Sempra’s Southern California Gas Co. is “committed to cooperating with investigations and working with policy makers at all levels of government to ensure gas storage is safe and reliable,” utility spokesman Javier Mendoza said in a telephone interview.

Earlier this month, a company executive said a relief well being drilled to plug the leak may be completed by the end of February. Mendoza said the company is making progress while also reducing the odor that is reaching the surrounding community.

Boxer and Feinstein plan to introduce an amendment next week to an energy bill pending in the Senate. It calls for the creation of a task force led by Moniz that would include representatives of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Interior. The group would issue finding within six months.

Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine said this week they are considering a study of potential long-term health affects of the gas leak.

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