WASHINGTON A new U.S. government task force will look into the country's biggest ever accidental release of methane, which occurred over several months in Los Angeles, California, hoping to prevent future leaks of the potent greenhouse gas from storage wells, the Obama administration said on Friday.
The Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety to look at the leak at the Aliso Canyon leak will be chaired by officials from the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation's pipeline safety office.
A months-long leak at the Aliso Canyon storage field made scores of people ill and forced more the temporary relocation of more than 6,600 households from the northern Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch.
Scientists said the global warming potential of the release, which began last October and was not plugged until February, was equal to the annual carbon emissions of nearly 600,000 cars.
"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," Lynn Orr, a Department of Energy undersecretary, and Marie Therese Dominguez, the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in a release.
Aliso Canyon, owned by Southern California Gas Co a division of Sempra Energy, is the country's fourth largest gas storage field of its kind. The utility has minimized the extent of the greenhouse gas impact of the leak, citing early California state data, saying the release represented less than 1 percent of the state's entire annual greenhouse gas emissions.
The Energy Department will hold workshops with industry, state and local leaders to develop practices for operation of storage facilities and ensure well integrity and response plans. Findings of the task force will be made public later this year.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)