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SoCalGas Storage Operations Unchanged by Well Leak, Officials Say

Officials at Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) utility on Wednesday said pre-winter underground storage operations continue unhindered by the seven-week-old leaking storage well at its 86 Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon facility 40 miles north of Los Angeles (see Daily GPINov. 12).

However, during a news media briefing at the site Wednesday afternoon, SoCalGas could not offer any more specifics on the cause of the incident, how long it will take to be fixed, and how much natural gas is being lost.

While elected officials, local residents and news media were questioning why the leak happened and the months now estimated for plugging it through the drilling of an adjacent relief well, SoCalGas' Jimmie Cho, senior vice president for gas operations and system integrity, reiterated the importance of the Aliso Canyon facility to the operations of the nation's largest gas-only utility.

When the leak was discovered Oct. 23, Aliso had 77 Bcf of gas in storage, and 9 Bcf has been withdrawn since then for use in the SoCalGas distribution system covering the southern half of the state, a SoCalGas spokesperson said.

"[Today's] actual inventory is 68 Bcf minus the amount of gas that has escaped from the leak," the spokesperson said. "The difference -- the amount that has leaked out -- can only be determined once the pressures in the field stabilize." Cho was asked by news media for the field's pressure on Oct. 23 and what it is now, but he said that information was not available.

Ultimately, a further calculation would have to be made to account for gas lost through measurement and for volumes that leaked but remain trapped underground in order to clearly understand how much gas escaped into the air, the spokesperson said.

In the midst of the gas storage operational challenges for which SoCalGas has brought in numerous outside engineering personnel, the utility has now received more than 2,500 requests from households to be relocated from the nearby Porter Ranch community, which is being hit with continuing gas odors. So far, more than 1,000 families have been relocated at the utility's expense, according to Gillian Wright, vice president for customer services.

Wright said SoCalGas has established 20 air sampling sites around the Aliso storage property and the adjacent residential community, and so far the readings have all been within acceptable levels. State and local health officials have said there is no threat to public health from the leak.

Nevertheless, the local city councilman for the area that includes the storage field, Mitchell Englander, who is a candidate for a spot on the Los Angeles County five-member elected board of supervisors, has made the storage field leak part of his election campaign and established a Porter Ranch community advisory committee as a voice and clearinghouse for the community.

Englander has joined in support of the city attorney's legal complaint against SoCalGas, which was filed last Monday in a state Superior Court, alleging the utility engaged in unlawful business practices leading up to the incident (see Daily GPIDec. 8).

When asked about the city's lawsuit, both Cho and Wright said the utility has followed all regulatory reporting requirements for the incident and would not comment specifically on a pending legal case.

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