California regulators have rejected a request from Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) to postpone well testing at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility because of the coronavirus lockdown.

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

Since the largest methane leak ever occurred at the 3,200-acre, 86 Bcf capacity facility over a four-month period in 2015-2016, new state regulations require all storage wells to be tested every two years. Sixty-six of Aliso’s wells being used need to complete tests by Oct. 1.

In May, SoCalGas asked the state’s oil and gas supervisor, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, who heads the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), to extend the deadline by six months because of the pandemic. 

In requesting the stay of enforcement, SoCalGas Vice President Paul Goldstein, who is responsible for gas transmission and storage, had cited the California Public Utilities Commission resolution passed in April that called for emergency customer protections in response to the pandemic.

However, Ntuk rejected the request, noting the tests are central to the new underground storage rules, which require casing wall thickness inspections, pressure testing, and temperature/noise logs to complete mechanical integrity testing.

CalGem in May had provided guidance on requests demonstrating hardship, offering a one-time, two-month extension to any operator “responding to the virus-caused historically low supply demand.”

“We believe a six-month extension for completing a second round of assessments does not pose a safety risk, while supporting the reliability of gas service to customers this coming winter,” said SoCalGas spokesperson Christine Detz. However, the Sempra Energy utility intends to meet the original Oct. 1 deadline. The utility has completed a baseline assessment of all of its wells, she noted.

California regulators have extended until late 2021 their investigation of the Aliso Canyon leak.