A California appeals court Saturday lifted a temporary restraining order that sought to prevent the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility from reopening.
The state’s largest gas storage facility earlier this month was cleared to reopen at 28% of maximum capacity after being deemed safe by regulators, including the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). Injections have been halted since October 2015.
A blitz of court rulings began early Friday when Los Angeles County was granted a temporary restraining order against state regulators and Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) to prevent the Sempra Energy utility from restarting injections [No. BS168381; No. JCCP 4861].
“The reopening of the facility is highly troubling and irresponsible,” the county’s complaint said. “This is a regulator rushing to approve reopening without completing necessary investigations and risking public health.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. rejected the injunction on Saturday, ruling he did not have the authority to “interfere” in the operation of a facility governed by the CPUC.
“In all events, the CPUC has concluded that the public interest requires injections to resume, within certain limitations to protect against energy shortages,” SoCalGas attorneys wrote in their response to the stay.
Following Wiley’s ruling, a SoCalGas spokesman said the CPUC “has said that ‘delaying the resumption of injections after (the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources) has completed its safety determination may itself pose a continued public safety and reliability risk to the Los Angeles Basin.’ We agree with their assessment. Moreover, the CPUC has directed SoCalGas to maintain natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon necessary to support the reliability of the region’s natural gas and electricity systems. Unnecessary delays will challenge our ability to meet that directive.”
The utility has met or exceeded CPUC requirements, the spokesman noted.
“The county’s claims are baseless and wrong: Aliso Canyon is safe to operate,” he said. “This is not just our conclusion, but the conclusion of the only state regulators with lawful jurisdiction and expertise to oversee the safety of our operations.”
County officials have not given up. “The county’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of the residents of Porter Ranch and the northwest San Fernando Valley,” County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “I believe that allowing Aliso Canyon to begin reinjecting puts the residents in a potentially unsafe environment.”
SoCalGas does not have a timeline on when operations may restart.
“Now that state regulators have confirmed SoCalGas has met the requirements of the comprehensive safety review, there are several checks and activities that must be completed before SoCalGas can resume injections,” the utility noted Friday on its Aliso Canyon update website. “Once injections begin, there are additional monitoring and reporting activities to meet compliance requirements and provide for ongoing safety and accountability.”
Before gas injections may resume, SoCalGas has to enact several safety procedures, several of which it has completed. It already has submitted a risk management plan, a well inspection and leak detection protocol, a fitness for service analysis, and it has conducted a required full facility leak survey.
According to the checklist, SoCalGas as of Monday (July 31) still had to complete a flyover to survey background methane emissions and required steps to pre-start the compressor and equipment.