The first of two days of state-run public hearings Wednesday in Los Angeles on the aftermath of the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage field methane leak was abruptly shut down after hundreds of angry residents refused to let proponents of the facility speak, drowning them out with repeated cries of “shut it down.”

While the owner/operator, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), and California regulatory officials have worked for the past year to test and upgrade the 86-Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon field’s 114 storage wells, local elected, fire, school and health officials, an environmental group and residents of the adjacent Porter Ranch community have been vocal in their insistence that the storage complex be permanently shuttered.

One of the many supportive public officials who the protesters allowed to speak, newly elected state Sen. Henry Stern, said he has introduced legislation (SB 146) to prevent Aliso Canyon from resuming operations before an ongoing investigation of the root causes of the four-month well leak last year has been completed.

The level of opposition to the 3,600-acre field has intensified since SoCalGas applied last November for state approval to resume injections of gas, and late last month when the Sempra Energy utility announced that the field was “safe and ready.”

Besides questioning the facility’s safety, residents and representatives of the environmental activist group the Food & Water Watch (F&WW) contend Aliso is no longer needed to ensure energy reliability in the region, something with which state and SoCalGas officials strongly disagree.

F&WW’s Bill Powers, an engineer and utility critic, told NGI on Wednesday that the massive storage field is no longer needed “to assure gas supply reliability under summer or winter peak conditions.” His remarks followed an online presentation he made earlier in the week alleging that SoCalGas is creating energy shortages artificially to support the need for Aliso Canyon.

Powers argues that it is costing SoCalGas utility customers $40 million annually to operate Aliso Canyon, and with new compressors that have been added, it will cost an added $30 million each year. “The greater Los Angeles community can save $70 million annually and avoid any health related issues, and not negatively impact gas supply reliability, if Aliso is permanently shut down,” he said.

The fact that SoCalGas has tested and upgraded most of the storage wells under the supervision of state regulators, gaining approval for the use of at least 34 of the wells, is not important, according to Powers. “That is unrelated to the strategic question of whether Aliso Canyon is needed for reliability, and therefore whether it should be returned to operational status.”

All of the city, county and state elected officials voiced support for keeping the facility closed at least until the root cause analysis is completed and made public, including a local representative for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who spoke shortly before the meeting was abruptly ended.