A green light was flashed for continued use of underground natural gas storage in California Thursday with the release of a two-year study by the nonprofit California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) that was mandated by state lawmakers in the wake of a massive methane leak from the state's largest storage facility at Aliso Canyon.
At a time when environmental and community activist groups and some local and state elected officials have called for Southern California Gas Co.'s (SoCalGas) 3,200-acre storage field to be permanently closed, the CCST report from a panel of 21 experts concluded that underground storage "can be mitigated through appropriate and sensible regulation," and the state's new regulations covering gas storage "greatly reduce the likelihood of future gas storage well blowouts."
However, the study noted that four of SoCalGas' storage facilities, including Aliso Canyon, involve greater risk because of their proximity to heavily populated areas. Some risks may be difficult to mitigate and "large enough to warrant closing" a specific facility. But the authors also concluded that "implementing better practices can mitigate the largest risks."
Opposition groups, led by the Food & Water Watch (FWW) and residents from the Porter Ranch community adjacent to Aliso Canyon, seized on the CCST study to support their contention that the state should transition away from gas use to relying more on renewables.
Stressing that both "clean and reliable" energy sources are needed, the study's authors said California "should lead the way in developing a complete assessment of future energy systems that will maintain economic and environmental health. Our report highlights the need to make energy reliability a central part of future climate plans."
Calling the state's network of 12 underground gas storage facilities "essential energy reliability services," the CCST study authors concluded that the need for storage might be reduced in future decades, but "found no immediate practical measures that would overcome California's demand for natural gas during peak periods in the winter -- a demand that currently exceeds the state's pipeline capacity to import gas.
"The state needs to weigh the risks associated with underground gas storage against the benefits, and the state needs to compare potential alternatives to underground gas storage in a similar risk-benefit framework," according to the the study. "Gas storage is likely to remain a requirement for reliably meeting winter peak gas demand."
Longer term, CCST concluded that the state "may be able to reduce the need for natural gas, but cannot count on the implementation of its climate policies to fully eliminate the need for gas storage."