LA Development and SoCalGas Storage Pitted Against Each Other

In yet another irony to the California energy foibles, while state officials are scrambling to expand natural gas transmission and storage capabilities in the state, one of Southern California Gas Co.'s most urban-based underground storage facilities is under siege from opponents of a massive coastal mixed-use residential/commercial development between Marina del Rey, CA, and a 50-year-old gas storage operation.

After 20 years of proposals, the controversial 1,100-acre development tied in with some environmentally sensitive coastal wetlands that lie on top of the abandoned oil field that makes up the underground gas storage field, Playa Vista is beginning its first residential construction. That has prompted vociferous opponents to raise fears that the proximity to the underground storage field will endanger the residents and workers in the new development, which will swell to 40,000 over the next 10 years.

Playa Vista developers are taking special precautions to mitigate any problems from naturally occurring methane seeping up on parts of the site, but those concerns have been determined to be unconnected with the SoCalGas storage facility through an independent study completed by the City of Los Angeles. Nevertheless, a group calling itself the Grassroots Coalition developed its own study that cites the possibility of "thousands of deaths and millions of dollars of property damage" for an explosion just half the size of a Texas underground gas storage explosion.

Although SoCalGas and its parent, San Diego-based Sempra Energy, are not responding to the coalition's contention that they are subjecting themselves to tremendous liability risks, the utility contends that there have been no deadly accidents at natural gas storage facilities, and that the one in Texas cited by the development opponents involved propane, which presents different safety issues.

Noting that there are more than 300 underground natural gas storage facilities in the U.S. and that it is a safe, proven and reliable technology, SoCalGas said it doesn't take "the safety and integrity of the underground storage field for granted," applying ongoing monitoring and safety programs with a 50-year track record.

According to the Los Angeles city study, completed by state agencies and independent experts, SoCalGas said "there is no evidence the storage field is leaking or improperly maintained," nor is there any evidence "that the gas storage facility presents a danger to workers or future residents." Gas at the new development is not from the storage field, the utility said.

The Playa del Rey storage field is SoCalGas's smallest, holding 2.6 Bcf of working capacity, with 450MMcf/d withdrawal withdrawal and 80MMcf/d injection rates.

The anti-development coalition maintains that some of the Playa Vista is located on "shared land" between the gas utility storage field underneath, and proposed development on the surface. SoCalGas said that is not the case. The two are adjacent--not shared.

While the opponents try to paint a picture of the storage field next to a new residential/commercial development being a "recipe for disaster," SoCalGas emphasizes that the field is a "natural geologic structure--a solid rock formation (not a cavern) created by Mother Nature," which has held oil and gas for millions of years.

"We constantly monitor all of our field operations," a SoCalGas spokesperson said. "The field provides a valuable service to our customers by ensuring reliable gas deliveries, particularly during the winter when gas demand is at its peak."

The Playa Vista opponents are "unfortunately trying to raise fears and that is misleading," the spokesperson said.

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