Proposed in 2009 to state regulators, Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) utility is still treading water in its multi-million-dollar attempt to upgrade some of its vast underground storage in the region. The utility is still trying to finalize environmental reviews that wary local residents are using to question the projects.

In one project, the utility is proposing to temporarily turn its storage acreage into a combination gas production and storage facility for up to five years and then expand the field’s storage capacity by up to 5 Bcf.

A draft 511-page final environmental impact report (EIR) from Santa Barbara goes before the local planning commission in a county-led hearing June 5 for SoCalGas’ plans to expand capacity at its La Goleta storage field by 3-5 Bcf and extract additional local gas supplies from the former gas field.

A final EIR and draft decision are expected later this quarter on a $200 million compressor replacement project at California’s largest underground storage facility, the 100 Bcf capacity Aliso Canyon complex in the Santa Susana Mountains, about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Although it has been there since 1941, the Santa Barbara facility has recently attracted some anti-drilling advocates spurred on by the anti-hydraulic fracturing movie Gasland. They have raised concerns to county elected officials about the long-standing plans for the 21.5 Bcf capacity storage field, including 19 gas injection wells and two observation wells.

SoCalGas has said population growth and changing energy needs have increased the demand for gas in California, raising the level of importance of the La Goleta storage facility.

Under a revised development plan, SoCalGas proposes to expand the capacity after first extracting commercially viable native gas supplies still available in parts of the old reservoir. The utility is attempting to get permission for drilling and production operations along a pristine part of the south-central coast of California.

Plans call for two gas production wells into known natural gas reservoirs and two exploration wells into other areas characterized as “believed likely to contain recoverable quantities of gas.” Once the reserves are treated, pumped into the SoCalGas pipeline system and the gas reserves depleted sufficiently, the reservoirs would be converted to the expanded storage use.

SoCalGas proposes to complete the drilling and onsite construction to be accomplished in two phases over a two-year period. Onsite construction would involve pipelines and a dehydration unit, along with other equipment needed for the production and processing of gas supplies. Native gas is projected to be available for extraction for five years.

Two years ago a proposed expansion of the SoCalGas Aliso Canyon facility was on the hot seat (see Daily GPI, Feb. 16, 2011). Nearby residents were still smarting from a 2008 wildfire that was allegedly sparked by a downed electrical line maintained by the Sempra Energy gas utility for operations at the 100 Bcf, 3,600-acre storage complex.

Upgraded power lines to serve the storage operation would be part of the expansion that was originally outlined for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 2009, at which time the Sempra gas-only utility characterized the work as part of the “state’s forward-looking gas policy,” and more specifically a mandate from the CPUC and state legislature to promote more competitive gas storage services in the state.

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