Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, wrote Friday to the California Public Utilities Commission to oppose a plan under consideration to expand the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Facility’s storage capacity and to support calls to shutter the facility.

The Los Angeles City Council and many members of the public have called for the closure of the Southern California Gas Co. facility, which in the fall of 2015 began leaking about 97,100 metric tons of methane and 7,300 metric tons of ethane, resulting in serious environmental damage. Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 asked the commission to explore an expedited closure of the facility.

“To increase storage levels when the actual pursuit is to seek the expedited closure of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility is to turn one’s back on the real issue and ignore the relevancy of recent climate and energy actions meant to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” Stern wrote.

Stern called the potential gas storage expansion “unwise and unsafe” and added that “all other alternatives and options must be fully explored to ensure natural gas storage levels are not increased.”

“Anything else sends absolutely the wrong signal given the concerns of the communities impacted by the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility and in meeting the state’s climate goals,” he said. “The public and environmental health and safety risks to the community can only be fully addressed by the facility’s closure.”

The California Public Utilities Commission did not immediately respond to City News Service’s request for a statement in response to the letter.

On Aug. 5, people affiliated with Food & Water Watch called into the commission meeting to oppose the expansion plan.

“The California Public Utilities Commission has failed frontline communities for too long, prioritizing profit-seeking utility interests over public health and environmental justice,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy.

“SoCalGas is requesting more storage capacity in direct contradiction of Governor Newsom’s order to shut the facility down after the country’s most catastrophic gas blowout … The CPUC has a clear opportunity to show its commitment to the public health of California residents by breaking this allegiance and denying SoCalGas’ expansion of Aliso Canyon, ordering an Environmental Impact Review for its expansion of an unnecessary gas compressor in Ventura, and beginning the transition to public power by disciplining and dismantling PG&E.”

The gas leak was discovered by SoCalGas employees at the underground storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains near Porter Ranch in October 2015 and continued emanating methane until February 2016. Thousands of residents in the northwest San Fernando Valley were forced out of their homes for months due to the leak and public schools in the area were closed to protect children and staff.

Limited operations resumed in late July 2017 with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.

According to a report commissioned by the CPUC and the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the leak was caused by microbial corrosion of a well casing, and SoCalGas did not conduct detailed follow-up inspections of analyses after previous leaks.

The report identified more than 60 casing leaks at Aliso Canyon prior to the 2015-2016 leak, going back to the 1970s, but said no failure investigations were conducted by the utility, which “lacked any form of risk assessment focused on well integrity management and lacked systematic practices of external corrosion protection and a real-time, continuous pressure monitoring system for well surveillance.”

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