Los Angeles County officials haven’t given up their fight to get a court order halting Southern California Gas Co.’s plans to re-open the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.
They are prepared to return to court Monday in a bid to convince an appellate court to hand down a new petition delaying the injection of natural gas into the storage site, closed since the largest methane leak in U.S. history displaced thousands of Porter Ranch residents in late 2015 and early 2016.
That goal was put in jeopardy Saturday when attorneys for SoCalGas filed a successful dispute to a 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling that temporarily blocked the re-start of gas injections at the facility.
The Los Angeles-based court — which handed down the Friday decision — reversed itself the next day, calling off the order in response to the SoCalGas challenge.
Among the successful counterpoints made by SoCalGas lawyers in the 25- page filing obtained by City News Service, the utility argued that the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources both determined the location is safe to contain natural gas in limited amounts.
In response to that decision, lawyers representing the county are returning to the court in a quest to get the delay order reinstated.
“This decision by the Court of Appeal to dissolve the temporary stay to block re-injection at the Aliso Canyon facility is an unfortunate setback for the community of Porter Ranch and the northwest San Fernando Valley,” county Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.
“The county will file a full writ petition with the court on Monday.”
The move is the latest in a flurry of legal maneuvers that began early Friday afternoon.
That was when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. refused a county request to block the continuation of gas injections at the storage site.
Wiley ruled that he did not have the authority to “interfere” in the operation of a facility governed by the public utilities commission.
The stay issued just hours later on Friday by the 2nd district court followed an emergency filing by county lawyers.
Under that order, SoCalGas was “temporarily enjoined from injecting natural gas into the Aliso Canyon underground reservoir” pending further consideration of the issue.
SoGalGas was given until 6 p.m. Saturday to respond to the ruling, which it did by mid-afternoon, utility spokesman Chris Gilbride said.
Not long after receiving the response, the appellate court called off the previous day’s temporary ban.
“(Saturday’s) decision by the court of appeals is the right one,” Gilbride said. “Aliso Canyon is safe to operate. This is not just our conclusion, but the conclusion of the only state regulators with lawful jurisdiction and expertise to oversee the safety of our operations.”
According to Gilbride, the CPUC and the DOGGR have said delaying the resumption of injections could pose an energy reliability risk to the Los Angeles Basin.
“The CPUC has directed SoCalGas to maintain natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon necessary to support the reliability of the region’s natural gas and electricity systems,” Gilbride said.
Concerns have been raised in the months since the leak about the possibility of electrical shortages due to the lack of natural gas from the Porter Ranch-area facility to operate Southland power plants.
Critics have blasted such claims as scare tactics meant to pressure regulators into allowing Aliso Canyon to resume operating — an accusation SoCalGas executives vehemently deny.
Barger said she and a litany of other county officials believe the facility should not reopen until a study is completed on the cause of the 2015- 16 gas leak. They also contend further study is needed on the possible damage a large earthquake could cause to the storage field.
“I strongly believe that without a root-cause analysis, seismic risk assessments and a long-term energy reliability study, this facility — which jeopardized the health and safety of local families for months — should not be allowed to reopen.”
CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan said the facility would be restricted to about 28 percent of its normal operating capacity, “just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area.”
According to SoCalGas, the leak was discovered on Oct. 24, 2015 and continued emanating methane until a Feb. 11, 2016 announcement that the leak was capped.
At its peak, the escaping gas forced an estimated 15,000 Porter Ranch area residents to temporarily relocate.
A study by researchers at the UC campuses in Irvine and Davis determined the leak put enough methane into the air each day to “fill a balloon the size of the Rose Bowl” and stated it was the largest such leak in the nation’s history.
The Aliso Canyon site has been closed since the almost four-month leak sent an estimated 109,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.
In court papers filed July 24, county lawyers argued that Aliso Canyon “cannot withstand” a major earthquake, and claimed there is a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of such a temblor occurring in the Aliso Canyon area over the next 50 years.
SoCalGas officials said concerns about seismic safety were “carefully considered” by state regulators before they decided the facility is safe to resume limited operations.
“SoCalGas has met, and in many cases, exceeded the requirements of the state’s year-and-a-half long review,” Gilbride told CNS. “In fact, DOGGR says Aliso Canyon `has undergone more safety and regulatory scrutiny during this period than any of California’s 13 other underground natural gas storage facilities, and likely more safety scrutiny from a regulatory agency than any other gas storage facility in the United States.’ “
—City News Service