Regulators: Gas storage field could reopen months before cause of leak is determined
Invisible pollution escapes from engines, compressors, wellheads and other equipment at underground storage fields like the one in Aliso Canyon. Photo by Southern California Gas

Regulators: Gas storage field could reopen months before cause of leak is determined

More than a year after a massive methane leak north of Los Angeles, state regulators said Tuesday that Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field could reopen before the cause of the leak is known, but they’ve drastically reduced the facility’s storage capacity.

The cause of the leak is being determined by Blade Energy Partners, a Frisco, Texas-based company, and its work is not expected to be completed by the end of this year, said State Oil & Gas Supervisor Ken Harris, who heads the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Southern California Gas Co. is a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy.

>>>Read our coverage of the Aliso Canyon methane leak

Blade Energy is at the point of extracting the well pipe and casing from well site SS-25 near the community of Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.

“They have not pulled it out. They have to develop a protocol to do their extraction,” Harris said in a conference call with reporters.

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Harris’ agency, along with the California Public Utilities Commission, said that the next step in deciding whether Aliso Canyon will reopen will be two public hearings early next month in Woodland Hills for residents to comment on the facility.

At some point after that Harris and Timothy Sullivan, executive director at California Public Utilities Commission, will decide whether Aliso Canyon is safe enough to resume gas injections and withdrawals.

The meetings will be held from 5:30-9 p.m. on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 in the Trillium Room of the Hilton Woodland Hills, 6360 Canoga Ave.

Firas Hamze, SoCalGas, inspects the Porter 44 well with a FLIR camera. Nearly a year after SoCalGas plugged the largest natural gas leak in the nation, the utility and state regulators conducted a media tour of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field north of Porter Ranch during a comprehensive safety review required by law before reopening the facility. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Firas Hamze, SoCalGas, inspects the Porter 44 well with a FLIR camera. Nearly a year after SoCalGas plugged the largest natural gas leak in the nation, the utility and state regulators conducted a media tour of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field north of Porter Ranch during a comprehensive safety review required by law before reopening the facility. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

No decision has been made on when or if Aliso Canyon can reopen. And there is no deadline set for that determination, Harris said.

“We have not completed all the steps to (ensure) it’s a safe facility. The safety review is not complete and won’t be complete until we have processed all 113 wells,” said Harris. “ We want to hear from the public in terms of what their concerns are.”

Two vocal opponents of the storage field reopening vowed to keep fighting for Aliso Canyon’s closure.

Residents of the community are still getting sick from the leak, said Matt Pakucko, president of Save Porter Ranch.

“Our regulators are considering a travesty of governmental action by rushing the reopening of Aliso Canyon. Nobody knows what caused the Aliso Canyon blowout in the first place. For that reason alone it should not be reopened,” said Pakucko in a statement. “Then, there is the simple pragmatic fact that the facility is not needed and has not been used in over a year. Reopening Aliso Canyon will not be tolerated and our community will fight to keep it closed.”

The environmental group Food & Water Watch said that the post-leak period shows that the region can get by without the SoCalGas resource.

“We are prepared to fight to keep the Aliso Canyon storage facility closed and ensure it is decommissioned,” Food & Water Watch senior organizer Alexandra Nagy said in a statement. “Aliso Canyon has not been needed to keep energy flowing to the L.A. Basin since January 2016 and future operation poses a great threat to public health, safety and the environment.”

Aliso Canyon, if it is eventually back online, will initially be a smaller operation.

The leak at well site SS-25 erupted in late October 2015 and it was not plugged until 112 days later. When it started, the facility had more than 80 cubic billion feet of gas stored deep inside Oat Mountain.

There was 15 billion cubic feet in storage with the leak was stopped.

Now the California Public Utilities Commission has set the maximum storage limit at 29 billion cubic feet, well under the capacity, and the minimum at 15 billion cubic feet.

Regulators imposed a series of requirements that SoCalGas must take, including a series of six tests for each well. Fifteen months since the leak was stopped more wells are out of service than ready for injections to begin again.

So far 34 wells at the facility have passed the six-test series. But 79 have been taken out of service, filled with protective fluid, and isolated from the gas storage field.

These wells have one year to either pass all of the tests or be permanently plugged. One well is currently undergoing testing, the state said.

Wells eligible for gas injection have new steel tubing, and a seal between the tubing and outer casing.

Here are some measures that have been put in place, according to regulators:

•Every well is equipped with real-time pressure monitoring of the tubing and casing. The pressure is continuously reported and monitored in SoCalGas’ operations center with alarms for any significant pressure changes.

•The production tubing and production casing of all the wells that may inject or withdraw natural gas have been pressure-tested to verify the strength of the double barrier.

•The gas company has updated its spill contingency plan, including actions that will be taken if a well alarm sounds. The company is also conducting daily field scanning with infrared cameras to detect leaks.

•The company will conduct tests and corrosion assessments on its storage facilities and its withdrawal and injection pipelines.

• Limiting gas injection and withdrawal to the well’s production tubing (inner steel pipe); injection and withdrawal through the production casing (steel pipe casing) will no longer be allowed.

SoCalGas did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

inewsource has partnered with the Los Angeles Daily News to cover the methane leak near Porter Ranch. Click here to read the original story.

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About Gregory J. Wilcox Los Angeles Daily News:

Gregory J. Wilcox Los Angeles Daily News
Gregory J. Wilcox is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Daily News.
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