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State Orders More Data, Gas Capture on Leaking SoCalGas Storage Well

California's oil/natural gas supervisor late Thursday issued a second emergency order aimed at getting faster gas capture and additional data on the seven-week-old underground storage well leak from Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon facility on the northern edge of a Los Angeles suburb.

The action by Ken Harris, head of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), comes after the utility held a media briefing Wednesday that offered no clear indication of when or how the leak will be stopped. Elected officials, environmentalists and citizens have expressed concern about the large amounts of methane going into the air, complicating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The new order expands on a Nov. 18 order seeking additional testing and well data, daily briefings, and a schedule for "identified pathways to seal the well," a DOGGR spokesperson told NGI.

The order also signaled that DOGGR will convene a panel of technical experts from three national laboratories -- Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia -- to provide independent expertise supporting the state's oversight of the actions by SoCalGas and its contractors. The scientists will have expertise in areas such as rock mechanics, well completion, cementing, fluid dynamics, materials, and corrosion, the spokesperson said.

Among eight ordered actions by Harris, SoCalGas is mandated to "expeditiously and aggressively pursue options to safely maximize the capture of gas and to minimize releases while relief wells are constructed and other actions are implemented to permanently shut in the well." Several reports will be due to the state Dec. 14, 16 and22.

Tim O’Connor, the California energy program director for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), on Thursday published infrared photos of a leaking gas plume above the 86 Bcf Aliso Canyon underground storage facility, calling it one of the biggest natural gas leaks ever. The California Air Resources Board has estimated that 50,000 kilograms (kg)/hour, or about 62 MMcf/d of methane is leaking at the site, which includes 115 storage wells spread over 3,600 acres, O’Connor said.

The photos, which were taken Wednesday, were juxtaposed with identical views taken with a normal camera and showing totally pollution-free skies above the site. "It reveals just how blind we are to this kind of pollution," O'Connor said.

Methane has a climate-warming power that is 84 times that of carbon dioxide, O’Connor said in a blog post accompanying the infrared photos.

Aliso Canyon was the fifth-largest natural gas storage field by working capacity in the United States in 2014, according to Energy Information Administration data.

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