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SoCal Gas Leak Tamed; Relief Well Hits Target

Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) utility said Thursday it has temporarily controlled the flow of gas at a nearly four-month-old well leak at its Aliso Canyon facility in suburban Los Angeles. A relief well has intersected the 8,600-foot deep base of the leaking structure.

"We have temporarily controlled the gas flow from the leaking well and have begun the process of sealing the well and permanently stopping the leak," said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president for gas operations/system integrity and the incident commander since the leak was discovered Oct. 23 (see Daily GPI,Nov. 12, 2015).

SoCalGas contract crews made contact with the damaged gas storage well (SS-25) at the 3,600-acre underground storage field early Thursday, kicking off a three-step process to kill and permanently close the well.

After intersecting the relief well with the SS-25, crews began the pumping of heavy fluids into the leaking well to stop the flow of gas, a SoCalGas spokesperson said.

Still to come is a multi-day process of cementing and stabilizing the leaking well, pumping enough cement to displace the fluids and mud and form a permanent seal. Finally, the utility and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) will work to make sure the leak has been permanently stopped.

"At that point, it is anticipated that no more gas will leak from the well and any remaining odors associated with the leak are expected to quickly dissipate," said the SoCalGas spokesperson, adding that the target date for stopping the leak before the end of this month is now realistic (see Daily GPI, Jan. 19).

Utility officials told NGI on Thursday that an announcement could be coming any day. SoCalGas is planning two notifications to the displaced Porter Ranch residents who left their homes because of ill effects from the odorant in the leaking gas -- first when the leak is controlled and a second one when DOGGR confirms it is permanently sealed.

"SoCalGas will attempt to call or email all residents who requested relocation assistance as well as issue a press release, post information on the AlisoUpdates.com website and provide updates through social media," the utility spokesperson said.

Stopping the leak and permanently closing the damaged well will kick off a much longer regulatory, legal and political process that will involve an analysis of what caused the unprecedented leak and a new set of federal and state rules governing the nation's network of more than 400 gas storage facilities (see Daily GPI,Feb. 1).

Post-Aliso Canyon, industry observers and regulators are assuming that the past deference to the states on the oversight of intrastate gas storage operations will be changed. Federal officials in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have said since the SoCalGas incident that the agency is "reviewing its options." And earlier this month PHMSA issued a gas storage safety advisory (see Daily GPI, Feb. 3).

In addition, in the months ahead there are numerous legal actions pending against the Sempra Energy utility, including one by the Los Angeles city attorney and another by the regional air quality regulatory board (see Daily GPI,Jan. 27; Dec. 8, 2015). There also are numerous class action and individual lawsuits by residents displaced from homes near the storage facility in Porter Ranch.

Separately, on Thursday the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) board reaffirmed the interstate gas pipeline group's commitment to underground storage integrity and acceleration of the implementation of national industry storage standards. INGAA supports PHMSA setting federal regulations for storage "based on existing consensus standards."

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