California regulators have approved Southern California Gas Co.'s (SoCalGas) plans to enhance the state's largest underground storage facility, with a $200.9 million project that was originally outlined nearly five years ago (see Daily GPI, May 29). It is part of a larger storage expansion by the nation's largest gas distributor.

As part of a consent agenda that was not discussed but approved 4-0 with one member abstaining, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a compressor replacement project at the 100 Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon complex in the Santa Susana Mountains, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The CPUC approval allows SoCalGas to live up to terms of a settlement with residential homeowners in Porter Ranch that addresses safe operation of the underground storage facility in what is designated as a high fire risk area. It enables the Sempra gas-only utility to make "commercially reasonable efforts to replace obsolete compressors as a means of expanding Aliso Canyon's capacity."

Left without resolution is a related proposed underground storage expansion project to expand capacity at SoCalGas' La Goleta storage field by 3-5 Bcf and extract additional local gas supplies from the former gas field. The California Coastal Commission has approved a local coastal zone permit that should allow Santa Barbara County to sanction the drilling at La Goleta.

Both projects have battled against local residents and elected officials' concerns. Aliso Canyon drew protests over a proposed expansion project several years ago. Nearby residents' concerns were driven by a 2008 wildfire allegedly sparked by a downed electrical line maintained by the gas utility for operations at the 100 Bcf, 3,600-acre storage complex in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County (see Daily GPI, Feb. 16, 2011).

Aliso accounts for 45% of SoCalGas'  storage injection capacity, which is provided by three obsolete gas turbine driven centrifugal compressors, each with 15,000 horsepower. The settlement agreement with residents, approved last year by the CPUC, calls for SoCalGas to replace the outdated compressors. The change is estimated to increase Aliso's injection capacity from 300 MMcf/d to 450 MMcf/d.

A draft 511-page final environmental impact report (EIR) from Santa Barbara was being hammered out earlier this year with a county-led hearing in June. Although it has been there since 1941, the Santa Barbara facility this year attracted some anti-drilling advocates spurred on by the anti-hydraulic fracturing movie Gasland. They have raised concerns to the county’s elected officials about long-standing plans for the 21.5 Bcf capacity storage field, including 19 gas injection wells and two observation wells.

In addition to the Aliso Canyon and La Goleta fields, SoCalGas has two large natural gas storage facilities: Honor Rancho and Playa Del Rey, both in Los Angeles County.