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Aliso Remains Under Siege by Area Residents, Local Officials

California's largest underground natural gas storage facility north of Los Angeles on Tuesday continued to be lambasted by residents and local government officials who told a state legislative hearing in Sacramento that the facility is unsafe, still leaks constantly and is the cause of continuing health problems for nearby residents of an upscale housing development.

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), owner/operator of the 86 Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon storage facility, disputed the criticism, even though the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health substantiated some of the complaints of continued health problems among the Porter Ranch residents.

Sempra Energy's SoCalGas has petitioned state regulators to resume injection operations at Aliso Canyon, and a state Senate energy committee is taking up a bill (SB 57) that would prevent the 3,600-acre storage field from reopening until results are made public about the third-party root cause analysis of a four-month-long storage well leak last year.

More than a dozen residents, environmental activists and city/county government representatives addressed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communication Committee hearing considering SB 57,supporting the measure as a "life and death matter.” The Aliso facility was called a "toxic neighbor" that is unsafe and continues to spring leaks.

"There have been recordings of measured short-term increases in methane levels, according to state data, and there have been reports of odors to the South Coast Air Quality Management District [SCAQMD]," a Los Angeles County public health spokesperson told NGI. "It is also possible that there are additional emissions occurring from the soils in and around the facility, and these emissions need to be characterized and assessed in a long-term fashion."

SCAQMD maintains a real-time methane monitoring station on the boundary between the storage facility and Porter Ranch. A district spokesperson told NGI on Tuesday that methane levels "decreased dramatically" as soon as the well was capped in February 2016.

"They have remained basically at background levels continuously since last summer," he said.

Air pollution regional regulators do not conduct health surveillance and SCAQMD is not aware of nearby residents continuing to get sick, the spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, one family brought three of their five children with them to Sacramento and told state lawmakers that it is a "blatant slap in the face to even consider reopening Aliso Canyon with thousands of people sickened as recently as just two days ago."

In a settlement with SCAQMD earlier this year, SoCalGas agreed to provide $1 million for a health study on Aliso Canyon that is to be led by the regional air regulatory district. Last year, the county health officials reviewed the Porter Ranch homes and declared that they were safe for families to return, a utility spokesperson said.

Confirming that air quality in the homes in Porter Ranch is superior to the air quality in other parts of Los Angeles, an earlier study published in May last year included experts from various state and federal health and environmental agencies, including SCAQMD and the Los Angeles County Fire-Health Hazmat Division, along with researchers from the University of California (UC), Los Angeles and UC, Berkeley.

"Data from the study clearly indicate that none of the approximately 250 substances the  agency tested for in the homes, including metals such as barium, were detected at any level of health concern," said the SoCalGas spokesperson.

In contrast, a Porter Ranch homeowner and operator of an art studio in the area, told state lawmakers Tuesday that there is no safety, fire or earthquake plan in place for Aliso Canyon “and people are still getting sick from spills and leaks."

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