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Earthquake Analysis Urged Before Aliso NatGas Storage Field Reopens

The County of Los Angeles on Monday asked the Los Angeles Superior Court for an injunction to prevent the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field from reopening until state regulators complete an earthquake and risk analysis.

In a filing with the Superior Court of California, the county asked the court to prevent Aliso from reopening until the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) completes the “critically necessary” analysis and develops a risk assessment/emergency response plan [No. BS168381; No. JCCP 4861].

A hearing before the court is scheduled for Friday.

The Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) facility was cleared to reopen last week following months of rigorous inspections and well analysis by state engineering and safety enforcement experts. Under state Senate Bill 380, the DOGGR and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) had to agree that the facility is safe before any gas injection may resume. No timeline was provided as to when injections may restart.

“Before the prohibition on injections can be lifted, SoCalGas must show...that all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the facility have been completed,” the filings stated.

The county last week amended a lawsuit claiming state agencies had failed to complete safety and environmental impact reviews as required.

In response, SoCalGas said, “The county’s...claims are baseless and wrong: Aliso Canyon is safe to operate. This is not just our conclusion, but the conclusion of the only state regulators.”

County officials said the “earthquake analysis is necessary because virtually every one of the 114 gas wells at the facility intersects with the Santa Susana fault. Recognized seismic experts are predicting a magnitude 6.3 or greater earthquake on the fault within the next 50 years. If so, the experts expect that the rupture along the fault will be at least one or two feet, likely shearing the wells and causing a multi-well leak far greater in magnitude than the 100,000 ton leak at just one well in 2015.”

According to County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the action by the county “reflects the board of supervisors’ commitment to protect the health and safety of our residents and to require the state to complete the legally-mandated studies and mitigate all risks to the maximum extent possible.”

The former head of SoCalGas gas storage at Aliso cautioned DOGGR against allowing the facility to reopen.

“There is a potential for catastrophic loss of life, and in light of SoCalGas’s refusal to openly address this risk, my ethics just will not allow me to stand by without making the public aware of what could happen” in the event of an earthquake, said James Mansdorfer.

DOGGR has indicated the seismic safety analysis may be done after the facility reopens but county officials disagree.

“It’s critical to the health and safety of thousands of people for the seismic study and risk assessment/emergency response plan to be completed before reopening, not afterwards, when it could be too late,” county officials said. “The earthquake work could already have been completed (it will take an estimated six months) and must be done before reopening.”

Earthquakes struck the area nearby in the San Fernando Valley in 1971 and 1994, county officials noted.

“The potentially catastrophic result of an earthquake simultaneously shearing numerous wells far outweighs the need to reopen the facility prematurely. Indeed, gas from Aliso Canyon hasn’t been needed since the field was closed almost two years ago.”

In addition, the county requested that the facility not be reopened until DOGGR has complied with the California Environmental Protection Act, which requires an environmental impact study before a project of this magnitude is opened. 

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