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State Regulator Orders SoCalGas to Explain Storage Field Leak

California's oil/natural gas supervisor late Wednesday issued an emergency order aimed at getting data on a month-long underground storage well leak from Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the owner/operator of the state's largest gas storage facility in northern Los Angeles County. The order sought initial information by the end of the day Thursday.

Even though inspectors from the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) have been at the well leak at SoCalGas' Alison Canyon underground facility on a 24/7 basis, Steve Bohlen, the head of DOGGR and oil/gas supervisor, ordered the gas-only utility to provide its testing results and other pertinent data to date related to the discovery and handling of the underground leak, including recent plans for drilling a relief well.

Bohlen also requested the utility to provide its written plan for sealing the leak, for which work got underway earlier this week (see Daily GPINov. 18).

"Today well control experts will continue our efforts to stop the flow of gas with a fluid-based plug and set up a secondary pumping operation to allow work even in bad weather," a SoCalGas spokesperson told NGI on Thursday after several days of curtailed work due to high winds. "As a prudent measure, [we] will at the same time prepare to construct a relief well to connect to the leaking well and create another entry point from which to pump fluid to stop the flow of gas."

Bohlen's order cited his authority as oil/gas supervisor "to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to prevent damage to life, health, property, or natural resources." SoCalGas has maintained that no imminent public safety or public health risks have developed since discovering the well leak Oct. 23.

While state officials would not characterize the status of the emergency order as either routine or extraordinary, they did say it was needed to "formalize information-sharing and ensure that regulatory entities all get test results and data as real-time as possible." A spokesperson for DOGGR said the agency expects SoCalGas to remain cooperative, and the agency doesn't expect that any penalties are forthcoming.

"[We have] received the order from [the state] and will provide the requested information on time," said the utility spokesperson. "We understand the leak has created concerns, heightened awareness and public urgency, and we have the same urgency to get this leak stopped as quickly as safety [concerns] will allow."

Five different state agencies, led by DOGGR, have been monitoring the response to the leak: the California Office of Emergency Services; Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, Air Resources Board, and Department of Conservation, in which DOGGR is housed.

According to Bohlen's order, information sought by the end of the day Thursday includes: downhole videos; well logs; pressure surveys; pressure testing; and spinner surveys. By the end of the day Friday, he wants a time schedule "identifying when relief well site preparation will be complete and when drilling of that well will start."

"Efforts have not yet remedied the uncontrolled flow of fluids or stopped the waste of gas," the order stated. "In addition, [SoCalGas] has not yet furnished [DOGGR] information about, and results from, some of the tests and/or remedial work; the [state oil/gas] supervisor needs immediate access to these data."

"All the efforts to stop the flow of the gas have been conducted safely," the SoCalGas spokesperson said. "There have been no injuries in connection with any work at the well site."

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