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Plugging, Disclosing Leaks Becoming Routine at Aliso Canyon

In the past three months, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has reported various leaks at its closed Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage complex. The latest incident, albeit small, happened Friday with a "minor leak" in an eight-inch diameter above-ground pipeline.

Last Friday's incident was not connected to any of the 86 Bcf capacity, 3,600-acre underground storage facility's 114 storage wells, all of which have been undergoing testing and upgrades. A large methane leak was plugged at the the facility in February 2016.

SoCalGas crews isolated the pipeline to stop the leak and repairs were completed last Friday night. In distributing its "communication notification” to area residents, SoCalGas also listed a series of similar small incidents dating back to Dec. 24, when a utility inspection crew using infrared cameras identified "a very small" leak from a two-inch opening in the same storage well (SS 25) that was the source the four-month leak last year.

These developments are unfolding as state officials told NGI Monday that 41 Aliso Canyon storage wells have passed all six required tests and can resume gas injections if and when SoCalGas is authorized by the state to resume operations. On Tuesday, state lawmakers held a hearing and heard emotional testimony supporting a proposal (SB 57) to require the California Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to complete an ongoing root cause analysis of the four-month leak before any operations at Aliso can resume.

Opponents of the gas storage facility -- both nearby residents and local elected officials -- expressed concerns about continuing leaks and resulting health problems along with allegations that the massive underground storage facility is unnecessary for future energy reliability in Southern California as evidenced by the lack of electrical blackouts or gas curtailments during the past nearly 18 months without Aliso Canyon.

On Monday, SB 57 was pulled from a possible vote in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communication Committee, angering representatives from some of the groups advocating permanent closure of the facility, although they said they still hope to get the bill voted out of committee in the next two weeks.

Several local fire and environmental representatives support the bill, along with an increasingly vocal contingent from the nearby Porter Ranch community, which is lobbying to have the state's largest gas storage field closed permanently, even though California energy officials consider it an essential part of the region's electrical and gas grid reliability.

Although the storage field has operated mostly unnoticed for 45 years, Porter Ranch residents, many of whom chose last year to leave their homes during the methane leak at SoCalGas shareholders' expense, argue that the storage field is the source of alleged "severe health problems," some of which have been corroborated by public health professionals.

Supporting the proposed legislation, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors earlier this month filed a lawsuit seeking a court order requiring that a root cause analysis be required as part of the "comprehensive safety review" of Aliso Canyon's viability which is required by law (SB 380).

A DOGGR spokesperson said this week that the six-month period for re-testing is ongoing for wells that passed an initial phase of tests for noise and temperature and were then isolated from the Aliso Canyon reservoir. "Those wells either will be scheduled for plugging and abandonment or for completing the second phase of tests required for potential future injection," he said.

However, the root cause analysis, which has grown in importance among lawmakers, local officials and residents, "is ongoing with no definitive completion date," according to the DOGGR spokesperson.

The December leak at storage well SS 25 turned out to have emitted one cubic foot of gas over four days and was stopped with the installation of a two-inch valve. Another incident on Jan. 5 involved about two gallons of diesel fuel being released from a construction contractor's fuel storage tank at the Aliso Canyon turbine replacement project construction site.

More recently, on March 7, salt water solution was released from an Aliso tank, spilling a mixture that was 97% water and 3% potassium chloride, a common salt compound, and the local county HAZMAT unit confirmed that the fluid did not affect a creek or any waterways in the area. "The fluid is used by crews to isolate wells from the storage reservoir and allows them to safely perform work on the wells," SoCalGas said in its listing of incidents distributed to the community.

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