As state authorities investigate what went wrong and whether the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility should be reactivated, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Wednesday stressed the storage facility’s essential role in ensuring future reliability of the region’s natural gas service. It committed to meeting new testing requirements for all storage wells at the 3,600-acre field.

Separately, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in closed session on Tuesday decided to seek a temporary restraining order against SoCalGas to extend the period that displaced residents have to return to their homes now that the four-month leaking gas storage well has been permanently capped.

For months, residents living adjacent to the gas storage field, many of whom were forced to relocate, have asked state oil and gas regulators to shut down the facility (see Daily GPI, Jan. 6).

The board’s action “conflicts with the science and health assessments made by the county’s own health experts,” said a SoCalGas spokesperson, expressing surprise at the board’s action after the sealing of the leak (see Daily GPI, Feb. 18).

In response to separate questions from NGI, SoCalGas officials committed to “testing each well at Aliso Canyon before injecting gas into it,” while stressing that the 86 Bcf capacity storage field — the state’s largest — is “vital to providing reliable, reasonably priced gas service to customers to heat their homes, cook, and power their businesses.”

SoCalGas makes the case that when wind and solar supplies aren’t available, natural gas supplies from Aliso Canyon help fill the gaps. “Large and small customers enjoy a consistent supply of natural gas, avoid temporary price spikes, and temporary outages with gas from Aliso Canyon,” the utility spokesperson said. A number of gas-fired generation plants depend on Aliso.

The local political issues surrounding the nearly 10,000 residents who left their homes with the utility paying the bills caught SoCalGas off guard as it reiterated Wednesday that all major state, regional and local public health and air quality regulators agreed that air quality conditions were back to the way they were before the massive leak, which was first identified Oct. 23 (see Daily GPI, Nov. 12, 2015).

“Based on discussions with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, as well as participation by all relevant regulatory experts, extending the time beyond what was agreed upon [earlier] is not consistent with any health and safety conclusions,” said the SoCalGas spokesperson, citing a recent quote from Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, who heads the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and concluded that “there will be no long-term health effects in the community resulting from this.”

SoCalGas is following state emergency rules released earlier this month requiring tight scrutiny and testing of all gas storage wells before reinjection of gas supplies resumes, but it is neutral and fearful about some parts of a state legislative proposal (SB 380) because of provisions that the utility thinks could jeopardize reliability of the gas system in Southern California.

“We are working with all parties [California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and California Independent System Operator, among others] to achieve a legislative and policy outcome that ensures storage field safety and addresses energy reliability.”