Environment & Science

SoCal Gas faces last hurdle to reopening Aliso gas field

Officials from the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and California Public Utilities Commission demonstrate an infra-ref camera during a media event at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility near Porter Ranch on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. The cameras are part of several new safety enhancements being made at the facility following a massive natural-gas leak at the facility in 2015.
Officials from the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and California Public Utilities Commission demonstrate an infra-ref camera during a media event at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility near Porter Ranch on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. The cameras are part of several new safety enhancements being made at the facility following a massive natural-gas leak at the facility in 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Listen to story

00:52
Download this story 0.0MB

A pair of public meetings this week could be the final step before state energy and utility regulators decide whether to permit natural gas injections to resume at the Aliso Canyon underground storage field.
    
The rupture of an aging gas well there in October 2015 led to the nation's largest-ever uncontrolled release of natural gas. The gas field covers some 3,600 acres of mountainous terrain just north of Porter Ranch homes. The four-month blowout forced some 8,000 families to temporarily move away from communities close to the gas field. It also created uncertainty over whether the region could reshape its gas consumption habits sufficiently to avoid shortages.
    
The state imposed new safety standards on the Aliso Canyon field in order for the field to resume operating, and it required two public meetings to be held in advance of a decision.
    
The agenda for the meetings calls for state regulators to explain the new safety and operating measures governing the storage field operated by Southern California Gas Company. Elected officials and some representatives of community groups will have a window to speak, then the floor opens to public comment. Representatives of SoCal Gas are not on the agenda.

The meetings are set for 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday at the Hilton Woodland Hills, 6360 Canoga Ave, Woodland Hills, CA 91367. The meetings will also be webcast.
    
In the year since the leak was plugged, SoCal Gas has overhauled the storage field and changed operating procedures per state requirements. For example, previously, gas would be injected and withdrawn from the field through both the inner tubing of the well and the donut-shaped space between the tubing and the casing of the well. The state now requires that gas move only in the central tubing.
    
Despite the overhaul, and state assurances that safety measures have been met, manyPorter Ranch residents say they continue to be sickened by fumes or chemicals that come from the gas field. They want the field kept closed. So do some elected officials, at least until an independent investigation pinpoints the cause of the gas leak.

Officials with the state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources have said the field, with its many improvements in equipment and leak detection, could operate safely in advance of the root cause investigation being completed.

The company still faces lawsuits filed by local government agencies and thousands of residents. It remains under a nuisance abatement order from the South Coast Air Quality Management District which requires the company to fund a health study of residents who live near the gas field.

SoCal Gas says the field is crucial for supplying natural gas during periods of peak demand in summer and winter. Business groups like the Los Angeles Business Federation, refineries and power producers want the field to reopen. They're the first ones cut off in the event of a gas shortage.
 
If the field is reopened, the state would significantly reduce the amount of gas that can be stored.
 
The public comment period ends Monday (Feb. 6). After that, the heads of the state Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Conservation will decide whether the field can go back online.