On the eve of two days of public regulatory hearings Wednesday and Thursday, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) released a progress report Monday, alleging that the shuttered Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility is "safe and fit for service. The utility said resumption of gas injections is critical to regional energy reliability.
"There is no dependency on, or need to wait for, the results of the [ongoing] root cause analysis," SoCalGas officials said.
Through its work to test and enhance the 86 Bcf capacity storage field, SoCalGas has demonstrated that the facility is safe to resume injection operations, the Los Angeles-based Sempra Energy gas-only utility said. A four-month methane leak was stopped a year ago.
Comprehensive testing, which is still ongoing, physical changes in all of the facility's 114 storage wells, and restrictions for flowing gas only through newly installed inner metal tubing combine to make the facility safe to resume operations, according to SoCalGas. Independent investigators are still examining the root causes of the leak, and there is no target date for publishing their conclusions.
Last November, SoCalGas filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to resume operations at Aliso Canyon, but more recently the CPUC outlined plans for taking up to two years to determine whether a reduced level of operations can be resumed and under what circumstances.
SoCalGas' report on Monday said the utility has gone "beyond the requirements of regulations and state law" in making several enhancements, including replacing the inner metal tubing of every well (34) that has been approved by the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).
"In total, nearly 50 miles of new steel piping has been installed," a SoCalGas spokesperson said. "[The utility] has invested in system upgrades that enhance the operation and safety of natural gas storage wells at Aliso Canyon."
The enhancements were summarized by SoCalGas in its report as:
New inner metal tubing consisting of the nearly 50 miles of new steel piping;
A casing or physical barrier installed around the new inner metal tubing; and
Limiting withdrawal or injection of gas only through the inner metal tubing.
Previously to boost injection/withdrawal capabilities, SoCalGas would pull gas volumes through both the inner tubing and the casing.
"Well inspections at Aliso Canyon continue to be in compliance with applicable regulations and state law," SoCalGas said in its latest report. As of Jan. 20, all of the storage wells (114) had completed the first phase of required tests, and 113 of them have moved to the second phase. Of the second phase tested wells, 38 have completed all the tests, and 34 have been approved by DOGGR.
In the months ahead, the CPUC and DOGGR will need to determine if Aliso can be closed entirely as nearby residents and some environmental groups are advocating without risking future gas and electricity shortages. And if it is determined that the facility is crucial to long-term gas/power reliability as the utilities argue, then what is the acceptable level of operations at the facility?
The heads of DOGGR and the CPUC, along with a third-party facilitator from California State University, Sacramento, will host the two days of public hearings, at which it is expected that members of the Save Porter Ranch residents' organization, the environmental group Food & Water Watch, and various local elected officials will argue that Aliso must be closed.