A woman walks past a Porter Ranch sign at the entrance to Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A woman walks past a Porter Ranch sign at the entrance to Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

State regulators issued a series of proposed regulations Tuesday under which Southern California Gas Co. would be able to resume injecting natural gas into the Aliso Canyon storage facility, but at reduced amounts and lower pressure levels than the company requested.

A final decision on whether the injections can resume will not be made until after a pair of public hearings are held next month, allowing residents to comment on the proposed safety procedures and operating restrictions.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources concluded in a letter sent to SoCalGas that the utility has either completed or was on track to complete the steps required by state law and the governor’s office before natural gas injections can resume at the Porter Ranch facility — site of a four-month gas leak that spewed 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and forced thousands of residents from their homes.

“We want to hear the public’s thoughts on the testing and inspections, and the steps being taken to ensure public health, safety and environmental protection,” said Ken Harris, the state’s oil and gas supervisor and director of DOGGR. “We are responsible for ensuring that if the facility reopens, the wells are safe. The entire facility has undergone extensive inspection and each well has been thoroughly tested with stringent standards that were developed with experts at the Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories.”

According to state regulators, 34 of the 114 wells at the facility have passed a series of safety tests, indicating they can be safely used to again inject natural gas into the storage facility. The other wells have been taken out of service, and they must pass all safety tests within one year or be plugged. One of them is already being tested.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger expressed her continued concern for the safety of the surrounding community.

“I cannot support re-injection at any level until the cause of the leak has been determined, public hearings are held and the community’s concerns about the safe operation of this facility are fully addressed,” Barger told City News Service.

The proposal by the state calls for gas storage in the facility to be limited to 29 billion cubic feet. The facility has a capacity of 83 billion cubic feet. Regulators want the storage filed to have a minimum of 15.4 billion cubic feet in storage at any given time to ensure there is a gas reserve “during an extreme weather event.”

The state is also proposing a maximum pressure level of 2,926 pounds per square inch — below the 3,595 psi proposed by SoCalGas. Regulators concluded that the lower-pressure recommendation “provides an important margin for well control and safety at this point in the well-evaluation regime.”

“Once the isolated wells have been plugged and abandoned or completed all testing and remediation … the division would consider a renewed proposal by SoCalGas to inject at a higher operating pressure,” according to state officials.

The public hearings on the proposed regulations will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, both at the Trillium Room of the Hilton Woodland Hills, 6360 Canoga Ave.

SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said the utility supports the public participation in the process, and considers the upcoming meetings “an important next step in the state’s comprehensive safety review process.”

“As (DOGGR) said in its announcement today, the entire facility has undergone extensive inspections and each well has been thoroughly tested with stringent standards,” Gilbride said.

“Just last week (DOGGR) and the California Public Utilities Commission hosted tours of Aliso Canyon for community and elected leaders to see firsthand the extensive physical upgrades and advanced technologies that have been deployed to enhance safety at the facility.

The state’s energy experts and independent third parties have concluded, in three consecutive technical assessments, that Aliso Canyon is needed to meet the region’s natural gas and electricity needs …

We understand and support that (DOGGR) and the California Public Utilities Commission have taken these important next steps in the process and we are currently reviewing the additional guidelines that were announced today,” Gilbride concluded.

Many Porter Ranch-area residents have been pushing for the full closure of the Aliso Canyon facility. Many residents who were displaced from their homes for several months or complained about health problems from the massive leak are also suing SoCalGas.

A judge in November approved a settlement that resolved criminal charges against SoCalGas, with the utility pleading no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the leak, which began Oct. 23, 2015 and was capped in mid-February 2016.

–City News Service 

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