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Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Leak’s Root Cause Still Unclear

The root cause analysis for the natural gas storage well leak at the Aliso Canyon facility in Southern California, which ended 18 months ago, is apparently months from completion, according to state officials.

 That was the assessment of a spokeswoman for the Conservation Department's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) following a series of public comment hearings on the proposed gas storage rules that concluded Wednesday in Los Angeles. "There is no news on the root cause analysis," she told NGI.

A California Public Utilities Commission spokesperson said the study remains in the third of a five-phase process that is to take more than three years. The third phase is expected to take up to nine months, and the fourth phase more than two months, before the final phase of "integration and interpretation" of the results is issued.

Final comments on DOGGR's draft rules were due by the close of business Thursday.

Although the basis for the four-month-long methane leak at the state's largest gas storage reservoir technically was not the subject of the hearing, affected residents attending the hearing urged for permanently closing the facility.

Specific concerns about the draft rules were offered by a handful of environmental and legal activists, some of whom collaborated with residents forced to vacate their homes for several months during the winter of 2015-2016 at the Sempra Energy gas utility's expense.

A DOGGR panel of legal, engineering and public affairs representatives listened to the feedback.

The question of whether the 86-Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon facility is allowed to reopen was not part of the draft rules hearing. However, the proposed regulations would apply to the decision-making process, the spokeswoman said. "The new gas regulations are based on the stringent protocols put in place after the blowout," she said.

In May, California oil and natural gas field regulators opened the statewide process for final comments, notifying stakeholders that it would adopt the proposed regulations after taking into consideration public comments. DOGGR has estimated that the total cost and economic impacts during the first five years of the rules' adoption by the gas storage facilities to be $236-337 million.

California's final regulations would replace emergency rules that have been in place since early last year following the Aliso Canyon incident. The emergency rules require:

  • At least daily inspections of gas storage wellheads using leak detection technology such as infrared imaging;
  • Ongoing verification of the mechanical integrity of all gas storage wells;
  • Ongoing measurement of annular gas pressure or annular gas flow within wells;
  • Regular testing of all safety valves used in wells;
  • Minimum and maximum pressure limits for each gas storage facility; and
  • Submitting comprehensive risk management plans that prepare for risks at each facility, including the corrosion potential of pipes and equipment.

In June the Trump administration agreed to delay Obama-era safety rules for underground natural gas storage in response to industry concerns. 

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