Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-24th District) emphatically restated her support for a PG&E offshore high-energy seismic survey in Estero Bay, near the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, during a January 28 hearing in Washington of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Last November, the California Coastal Commission unanimously denied PG&E a permit to conduct a high-energy seismic survey off the Central Coast. Capps now appears to be attempting to supersede the state Commission’s ruling by taking her case directly to Washington regulators.
Leading up to Election Day 2012, which took place a week before the Coastal Commission rejected PG&E’s proposal, Capps seemed to temper her pursuit of a high-energy seismic survey.
“On a more local issue, PG&E’s application to do controversial seismic testing off the coast, Maldonado says the testing needs to be done now, so that we can move on,” wrote the Tribune in their Oct. 14 editorial endorsement of Capps.”Why the hurry? Why not try to develop a seismic testing program that will minimize the impacts on sea life and the fishing industry? That’s Capps’ position, and we believe it makes sense.”
A month later, the Coastal Commission determined that there is no such thing as a high-energy seismic test that minimizes the impacts on sea life and the fishing industry, and that no testing makes more sense in marine-protected, mammal-rich Central Coast waters.
Having prevailed by double digits in what was forecast to be a close vote over Republican Abel Maldonado, Capps has again turned up the volume on seismic testing. She still wants the tests conducted and, according to a recent press release from her office, “in a manner that protects marine life and the environment.”
During the Subcommittee hearing in Washington, Capps aggressively questioned Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison Macfarlane, reading from a prepared statement about the need for additional studies prior to relicensing Diablo Canyon.
“Now, we’ve known for a long time that this nuclear plant sits on the Hosgri fault, earthquake fault,” Congresswoman Capps said to Macfarlane. “But in 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey discovered a new fault called the Shoreline Fault. The Energy Commission recommended – and our state PUC directed – that the utility conduct independent, peer-reviewed, advanced seismic studies prior to applying for relicensing. As you know, PG&E asked to have their relicensing request paused, pending completion of these studies, and the NRC granted their request and I supported that action.
“PG&E came up with a plan for the studies,” said Capps, “but the Coastal Commission, California’s Coastal Commission, rejected it last year due to environmental concerns. I was similarly concerned about these impacts on marine life, which is why I supported making it a limited pilot program.
“But the health and safety of my constituents is my top priority, and I strongly believe that additional study of the fault is needed before the relicensing process can move forward. While I understand this effort has been driven by the state, I would hope the NRC would also want to have the best, most up-to-date information about this fault.
“Chairman Macfarlane, do you also agree that having additional, independent data on the Shoreline fault would be helpful? I’d appreciate just a yes or no.”
Macfarlane didn’t respond with a yes or no to Capp’s somewhat contentious request. But after getting Macfarlane to agree in general that “more information is a good thing,” Capps continued: “Last October, the NRC published a Research Information Letter claiming that Diablo Canyon is seismically safe. Yet there are other scientific studies that seem to conflict with the NRC’s report and I’m holding up one.
“USGS seismologist, Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck, who discovered the Shoreline Fault, just published an article in the peer-reviewed Bulletin of the Seismology Society of America, and this is a quote, ‘Much is unknown about the Shoreline Fault.’
“This raises concerns for me and my constituents that there are still unanswered questions about the seismic situation. So Chairman Macfarlane, how can we ensure that these questions and concerns are properly addressed?”
Responded Macfarlane: “Fortunately right now there’s an ongoing process. There’s a committee called the Senior Seismic Hazard Assessment Committee (SSHAC) actively evaluating the seismic situation at Diablo Canyon and they’re in the middle of the process. We’re observing this process and are looking to see what the outcome is.”
Capps persisted. “The fact remains that another federal scientist – in a peer-reviewed study – says more information is needed. So we clearly need to figure this out. I think we can all agree that every angle must be thoroughly examined. The NRC analysis needs to incorporate independent, concrete data that can be tested against those of seismic experts, like Dr. Hardebeck.
“I think it makes sense to have the best eyes and minds in our country working together, looking at these seismic issues. Because actually this is first and foremost about safety. The NRC has a responsibility to make sure Diablo Canyon is as safe as it can be today, but also into the future.”
Concluded Capps: “I want the record to note: Diablo Canyon and the NRC have more than a decade to make these decisions because these licenses don’t expire until a decade from now so there’s no rush. We must work together to find a responsible way to gather and consider the additional data before relicensing moves forward. … I hope you share this commitment, and I look forward to working with the NRC to ensure this process is done right.”
Congresswoman Capps held up respected USGS seismologist Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck’s recent study, “Geometry and Earthquake Potential of the Shoreline Fault, Central California,” before the Subcommittee as documentation that high-energy seismic surveys absolutely needed to be done for relicensing Diablo; yet, even if few committee members had read Dr. Hardebeck’s study, even fewer, if any, knew what her actual views are regarding the earthquake faults and high-energy seismic testing.
Last August Dr. Hardebeck told The ROCK: “We do have a pretty good idea where the faults are from ‘low energy’ seismic imaging, locations of small earthquakes, and gravity and magnetic studies. The new studies, if successful, could add some new information that could refine our models of where the faults are and how they connect, but we’re not expecting anything strikingly new.”
“My views haven’t changed,” Dr. Hardebeck emailed The ROCK on March 21. “Nowhere in the [Seismology Society] paper do I suggest that high-energy seismic surveys are needed to solve the important outstanding issues regarding the Shoreline Fault.
“My conclusion in the paper is that the Shoreline and Hosgri Faults can be ‘imaged’ from the locations of small earthquakes, and that this ‘imaging’ is good enough to demonstrate that the two faults are linked and that the Shoreline Fault is not broken into segments.
“I also conclude that the most important unknown about the Shoreline Fault is the rate at which it moves, or equivalently the rate at which it might produce large earthquakes. This is a question that cannot be addressed through high-energy seismic surveys.”
Singling out Dr. Hardebeck as the supporting science behind her demands for seismic testing, contrary to Hardebeck’s actual views, demonstrates just how hard Capps is pushing a PG&E seismic test in the halls of Washington, far from the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous rejection of the environmentally destructive high-decibel test, far from the world-famous whale-watching waters of California majestic Central Coast.
Editor’s Note: On Oct.12 the NRC wrote a letter to PG&E declaring the Shoreline Fault within acceptable safety limits to operate Diablo Canyon. “Based on our review,” NRC senior project manager Joseph Sebrosky wrote to PG&E, “the NRC has confirmed our preliminary conclusion that DCPP’s ground motions from the Shoreline fault are at or below those for which the plant was evaluated previously and demonstrated to have reasonable assurance of safety.”
The NRC stated that it did not require the proposed 3D high-energy test, though it remained receptive to any fresh data the test might uncover. At the same time, seismic exploration of the lengthy Hosgri Fault had been limited to Box 4, Estero Bay. With NRC’s renewed confidence in the stability of the Shoreline, the dynamics of the test had shifted, questioning the urgency for the project, if not the necessity.