Environment & Science

SoCal Gas asks California to reopen its Porter Ranch storage field

Overhead photos show the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad near the Porter Ranch community on Dec. 17, 2015.
Overhead photos show the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad near the Porter Ranch community on Dec. 17, 2015.
Earthworks via Flickr Creative Commons

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Southern California Gas Company said Tuesday that it has completed a series of state-requested inspections and well repair work at its Aliso Canyon gas field and has asked state regulators to certify that the area can safely resume operations.
    
It's an important milestone in the company's effort to reopen the underground gas storage operation near Porter Ranch. A well ruptured one year ago and  leaked for four months, pouring a massive amount of methane into the atmosphere. Scientists described it as the nation's worst methane leak.

Fumes and chemicals from the well blowout triggered many health complaints from residents and led some 8,000 families in the area to relocate.
    
SoCal Gas has been eager to resume injecting gas into the field. After the leak, the state ordered the utility to draw the gas down to reduce pressure on the broken well and to halt any further injections of gas into the field. Aliso Canyon currently holds just 15 billion cubic feet, far below its capacity of 86 billion cubic feet. 
    
The company says 29 of 114 wells have been overhauled and now meet state safety requirements. Some wells are still undergoing work, and others have been temporarily sealed to get the field ready for a state safety exam. Once that is completed, state regulators will hold a public hearing.
    
Local politicians who represent the Porter Ranch area are asking for caution. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander issued statements saying they want the field to stay closed until after the state Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources complete their joint investigation into the cause of the well break.

SoCal Gas argues that the reopening of Aliso Canyon should not have to wait for the completion of that inquiry, which the company says could last until the middle of next year.

The extensive work the utility has done to overhaul the wells "demonstrates how the Aliso Canyon Storage facility is fit for service and safe to resume injection prior to the completion of the root cause analysis," SoCal Gas' Chris Gilbride said in a statement.

L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said he wanted the field kept closed until after the PUC conducts an additional study called for by a new state law. That study would evaluate the feasibility of minimizing or permanently closing the gas field.   

The Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field is the nation's fourth largest, and SoCal Gas and state energy officials have described it as vital to the region's energy reliability.  The well blowout highlighted problems of aging equipment at Aliso Canyon, which  is a 3,600-acre depleted oil field that was converted to gas storage in the 1970s.

With the field shut down and held at a low level of gas, the Los Angeles area was at risk of gas shortages affecting gas-fueled power plants and refineries last summer. During the cold fall and winter season, the risk of gas shortages shifts to homes and business customers.