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SoCalGas Storage Field Not Needed, LA County Study Says

Supporting the contention of many local residents and government officials, a study commissioned by Los Angeles County has concluded that Southern California Gas Co.'s (SoCalGas) now-closed 86 Bcf Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility is not needed to ensure regional energy reliability, countering past contentions from state energy officials.

As the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) prepares to begin public hearings later this month to examine whether to reopen Aliso Canyon, government officials and nearby residents are coalescing in an effort to shut permanently the state's largest gas storage facility and the nation's fourth largest.

Last Month, LA County filed a lawsuit against state regulators to force them to keep Aliso Canyon closed, citing the threat of earthquakes.

Prior to the past summer and winter seasons since a well leak was stopped in mid-February last year, the CPUC, California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources developed detailed separate mitigation plans to avoid utility gas shortages that would cause power blackouts and gas supply shutoffs to large industrial customers.

These plans and warnings about the possibility of shortages prompted county officials to retain an engineering consulting firm, Kirkland, WA-based EES Consulting, to examine whether Aliso is critical to future energy reliability. EES questioned whether it is needed.

Separately, last Saturday, residents from the Porter Ranch community near Aliso Canyon and local elected officials held a community forum to organize a letter-writing campaign in support of state legislation (SB 57) to mandate that the ongoing root cause analysis of the four-month well leak be completed and made public before the Sempra Energy utility is allowed to resume operations at the 3,600-acre facility.

Besides county health and fire officials, who have become critical of the gas storage facility, the environmental group Food & Water Watch with community activists and San Diego-based consumer engineer Bill Powers have been critical of the state and utility claims that Aliso Canyon is an important regional energy facility needed to maintain gas and power system reliability.

Last Thursday, Food & Water Watch wrote California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, urging his office to investigate proponents' claims that the storage field is needed, based on the latest consultant's report for LA County. Critics of the state agencies handling of the matter allege the CPUC and CEC can't be trusted. Ultimately, Gov. Jerry Brown may be pressured into stepping into the politically sensitive debate, something he has avoided since touring the storage field as the leak continued early last year.

Just this year, more than 12 months after the massive methane leak was capped at Aliso Canyon, the fallout continues for SoCalGas, state officials and the future of natural gas in the second-highest gas-consuming state lagging only Texas. State elected officials have proposed cutting back on gas-fired power generation and closing or restricting future operations at Aliso Canyon, along with anti-Aliso activists forcing a state hearing to be terminated early after speakers were shouted down by protesters earlier this year.

Meanwhile, state officials, electric utilities and SoCalGas have reiterated their mutual commitment to maintaining energy reliability again this summer, a second one during which Aliso Canyon is not expected to be in operation.

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