Environment & Science

SoCal Gas predicts late summer restart for stalled gas field

                               Porter Ranch resident Nicole Abraham, in the red shirt, waits her turn to ask attorneys a question about the massive gas leak at the nearby Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field. That public meeting was in December 2015.
Porter Ranch resident Nicole Abraham, in the red shirt, waits her turn to ask attorneys a question about the massive gas leak at the nearby Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field. That public meeting was in December 2015.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Southern California Gas Company on Thursday predicted its natural gas storage field near Porter Ranch could be back on line by late summer. In the wake of a four-month natural gas leak now sealed, the field has been drawn down to less than one-fifth its capacity while regulators oversee a battery of tests to determine if the facility is safe to resume operation.

"We think that we can do it," said SoCalGas spokesman Mike Mizrahi. "And I don't think that is different from anything we've said in the past."

The prediction of the late-summer restart is at odds with earlier estimates by state energy officials that the task of testing all 114 gas wells at the Aliso Canyon storage field could take many months or even a year.

The announcement comes a day before members of the state Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and California Independent Systems Operator convene a public hearing in Woodland Hills to hear from SoCalGas about how the continued shutdown of the storage field might affect the region's energy reliability. As many as 18 power plants in the region rely on gas from the facility to generate electricity during periods of high demand such as hot summer days.

The hearing is expected include up to eight hours of testimony from industry, energy and public stakeholders. It is set for 1 p.m. at the Warner Center Marriott.

The prospect that the field could return to operation is opposed by the groups Save Porter Ranch and Food and Water Watch and by many residents from Porter Ranch and surrounding communities who fear another gas leak could occur.

Injections into the vast underground storage reservoir were halted by state order after a well ruptured in October and leaked an estimated 5.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere for four months. The reservoir was allowed to bleed down, through the leak and withdrawals of gas for sale, to 15 billion cubic feet. Normally, it can store as much as 86 billion cubic feet of gas.

Eighteen local electrical power plants that buy gas from out-of-state producers pay SoCal Gas to store their gas supply at Aliso Canyon and take delivery of it through the company's network of distribution lines. With the reservoir now barred from receiving any underground gas injections, those power plants have no place to store their gas, creating a risk that they could run short during the summer's hottest days when they fire up gas-powered plants to respond to peak energy demands.
 
Mizrahi said SoCal Gas would prioritize its well testing on those that appear to be in the best condition, so that if the go-ahead to inject gas into the field is given earlier, the company will be ready with some wells able to do so.

A bill by Sen. Fran Pavley pending in the state legislature could permit the storage field to be returned to limited injections before all 114 wells receive all six tests that state officials have ordered. The bill, SB380 was recently amended to permit the early injections into the underground field after  energy regulators confirm all wells are fully inspected and have either passed all tests or are taken off line.

Under Pavley's bill the company could plug all wells that had not undergone full testing, and operate the remainder of the wells "only to the extent needed to meet energy reliability demands," according to a statement from Pavley's office.