Local radio talk show hosts and elected officials on Thursday toured Southern California Gas Co.’s (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon underground storage field where a gas well leak is now two-months old. At the same time, efforts to plug the well and keep the 86 Bcf storage facility operating continued almost unnoticed.

On Tuesday, a host of state agency representatives held a news media conference call and assured everyone that there are no public health or safety risks, and no risks to natural gas consumers served by SoCalGas, the largest gas-only distribution utility in the nation.

Mike Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), said that along with eventually determining how much of the cost of the leak will be absorbed by utility ratepayers, the CPUC is working with other state agencies — the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) — to make sure there are adequate gas supplies for consumers, industry and power plants in Southern California.

CEC Chairman Robert Weisenmiller said his agency has determined gas supplies are not being threatened by the leak at one of Aliso Canyon’s more than 100 storage wells. “The leaking well has very little impact on systemwide supplies,” Weisenmiller said.

“At the current withdrawal rates, we have no supply concerns at this stage, although we will continue to work with the CPUC and CAISO to monitor the weather and the withdrawals to make sure we reliable gas supplies in Southern California.”

For now, at the relatively low levels at which the gas leaks are occurring, “the situation seems to be manageable,” Picker said.

The state’s ex-chief regulator for oil and gas operations, including underground gas storage fields, Steve Bohlen, who is currently an unpaid consultant to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), said the leaking storage well was “fully compliant” with state requirements on Oct. 23 when the leak was discovered. “It had a leak test within a year and was due for another test around the time when the leak was uncovered,” Bohlen said.

For this well and the 114 others at Aliso Canyon, Bohlen said the state looks at well records, cementing bond records for adherence to the casing and the geologic formation, and “a wider body of information that well completion engineers and cement experts look at to assess the viability of a well.”

Another source of concern and debate is exactly how much natural gas, and particularly methane, is being spewed into the atmosphere daily, and SoCalGas has said it will not be able to calculate that number until after the well is plugged. The California Air Resources Board early in the efforts to plug the leak made estimates that its representative on Tuesday cautioned were very preliminary. Nevertheless, environmental groups alarmed at the climate change implications and residents frustrated with lack of closure have seized on the numbers to support their contention that this is a global warming nightmare.

Earlier this month, SoCalGas reported that the day the leak was discovered Aliso Canyon contained 77 Bcf of stored gas supplies and the actual inventory on Dec. 10 was 68 Bcf because between Oct. 23 and Dec. 10 the utility withdrew 9 Bcf during normal storage field operations (see Daily GPI, Dec. 10).

While normal storage field operations have carried on unchanged, the utility’s role in the surrounding community has been anything but calm. On Thursday night a citizen advisory commission that was convened in response to a Los Angeles city councilman’s urging met in a school auditorium in one part of the Porter Ranch home development, which backs up in the foothills below the southern boundary of the storage field. And a mile or so away, homeowners who have filed lawsuits against SoCalGas convened another meeting.

On Thursday, school officials decided to close Porter Ranch campuses and move classes to other campuses out of the impacted area. A SoCalGas spokesperson said the utility will support the school district’s decision, but pointed out that air samples are being taken twice daily around the campuses and health officials have said the samples show no risks for students or teachers.