Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Tuesday formally asked California regulators for approval to reopen the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage field along the northern fringes of Los Angeles that has been closed since a leak occurred a year ago (see Daily GPI,Feb. 18).
In a letter to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Sempra Energy utility asked for approval to resume injecting gas supplies into the 86 Bcf capacity facility, albeit at a reduced rate and using only a fraction of the 114 storage wells that encompass the 3,600-acre facility. Most of the wells continue to be temporarily plugged and sealed off from the storage reservoir.
"Over the last year we have made extensive physical upgrades and deployed advanced technologies to enhance safety at Aliso Canyon," said SoCalGas President Bret Lane. Infrastructure and technology advancements cited by Lane included new inner metal tubing on each storage well; 24-hour pressure monitoring on all wells; and an infrared fence-line methane detection system.
The state review of the request is expected to take weeks.
"Safety is our top priority, and we will thoroughly review all the information and data, conduct independent site inspections, seek public feedback and the opinion of outside experts before making any determination," said DOGGR chief Ken Harris, who also is the oil and gas supervisor in the state’s Department of Conservation (DOC).
DOGGR and CPUC must confirm and concur with the utility's assessment before the facility may be reopened.
In response, opponents of the storage facility led by the Food & Water Watch environmental group again urged California Gov. Jerry Brown to deny SoCalGas' request, calling Aliso Canyon "dangerous," alleging that there have been several new leaks at the facility during the summer and "70% of the facility's gas wells have failed mandatory safety tests." The facility is not needed to meet future energy needs in the region -- something strongly disputed by SoCalGas and others -- a spokesperson for the organization said.
SoCalGas contended in its request that it has met all of the requirements of the state's comprehensive safety review and provided additional information requested, including a risk management plan and adhering to a detailed checklist (see Daily GPI, Oct. 24).
SoCalGas said it would meet the state's checklist, which includes items required in statute, regulations and orders for individual wells and the field as a whole. "All of the items on the checklist are aimed at protecting public health, safety and the environment," a DOGGR spokesperson said.
Currently 29 of the 114 storage wells at Aliso Canyon have passed all of the required tests, 76 had been temporarily isolated from the storage reservoir awaiting diagnostic testing, and nine have diagnostic test results pending, a SoCalGas spokesperson said on Wednesday.
SoCalGas maintains that is has made "significant progress" toward completing DOGGR's comprehensive safety review. The utility said in a report posted on its website Tuesday that it has "made comprehensive infrastructure, technology and safety enhancements" at Aliso that strengthen its infrastructure, introduce real-time pressure monitoring and enable improved communications with stakeholders since the leaking well was capped.
As part of its communications improvement, SoCalGas has formed an advisory council for the storage facility that includes residents from the nearby Porter Ranch community, business owners and community leaders. Nevertheless, local elected officials initially urged the state not to allow the facility to reopen.
U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said the state “must proceed with extreme caution" since multiple investigations into the cause of the leak are still pending.