Mirroring requirements laid out by state agencies, Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Thursday outlined plans for ensuring the integrity of the now-closed Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, which it hopes to reopen by late summer.

Amid calls by environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and elected officials to close the facility permanently after a four-month well leak (see Daily GPIFeb. 18), SoCalGas said it will meet new testing and evaluation standards for all of its 114 wells at Aliso.

State agencies recently reaffirmed Aliso Canyon's significance to the reliability of natural gas and electricity grids in Southern California in announcing a plan for heading off possible gas curtailments and consequent rolling power blackouts (see Daily GPIApril 5).

SoCalGas said it will meet the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources’ (DOGGR) testing regime requiring that each of the active injection wells either pass a thorough battery of tests to resume gas injections or be taken out of operation and isolated from the underground gas reservoir.

"DOGGR’S testing regime was developed in coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Labs," a SoCalGas spokesperson said. "In compliance with DOGGR’s testing regime, work is already under way to test wells at the field, and SoCalGas is working toward being able to operate the Aliso Canyon storage facility by late summer."

“We have said all along that we will not reopen Aliso Canyon until we are confident it is safe to operate,” said SoCalGas COO Bret Lane. “Following both the spirit and letter of new guidelines established by the state, we have started work that should allow us to partially restore operations at the field by the end of the summer. We look forward to working with regulators, elected officials, and our customers to address concerns about reliability this summer and during next winter’s heating season.”

Nevertheless, EDF's California lead operator, Tim O'Connor, has called for Aliso bto be shut permanently, and a source involved in the natural gas and power markets in Southern California told NGI that there is a growing anti-fossil fuel lobby developing in California, including some policymakers and staff at major state agencies, such as the California Air Resources Board, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Energy Commission.

The public sector generation funding arm, the Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) encouraged state regulatory agencies and SoCalGas to work with stakeholders "to urgently evaluate the possibility of phasing-in the safe operation of wells that are deemed safe by DOGGR's and independent experts' six test standards. “Further evaluation may determine that this approach supports the highest priority of ensuring public safety -- both safety for local residents near the facility and safety concerns associated with impacting power supply reliability for the broader region this summer and beyond,” SCPPA said.

SoCalGas’ framework to bring the Aliso Canyon storage facility back online would have three phases:

  • First, every active well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility will undergo diagnostic noise and temperature testing, and the data from each of these tests will be reviewed and confirmed by DOGGR;
  • Second, based on the outcome of diagnostic testing in the first phase, wells will either be temporarily taken off-line and isolated from the underground reservoir or undergo a battery of four additional diagnostic tests to determine if they are safe to operate;
  • Third, DOGGR will confirm the field can be safely put back into operation. In concert with DOGGR, the Executive Director of the CPUC must also make a determination about whether the field is safe to operate.

In laying out its plans, SoCalGas reiterated that the natural gas and electricity grids are interdependent. During periods of peak gas and electricity demand or when renewable sources of power are diminished, gas-powered electricity fills the gap.

Since Oct. 25, no natural gas has been injected into the Aliso Canyon storage facility and all injection activity into the facility remains suspended until SoCalGas complies with DOGGR’s safety review testing regime. Withdrawals from the facility were also stopped at the direction of the CPUC, SoCalGas said.