LA County Moves to Block Aliso Canyon Reopening

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Attorneys for Los Angeles County plan to ask a judge today for a restraining order blocking a re-start of natural-gas injections at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch, challenging a determination by state regulators that it is safe to resume limited operations at the facility.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has called for the facility -- the scene of the largest methane leak in U.S. history -- to remain out of service until a study into the cause of the 2015-16 leak is completed. Attorneys for the county also contend that a detailed seismic-safety study is needed to assess the danger of a large earthquake striking the facility.

“It's critical to the health and safety of thousands of people for the seismic study and risk assessment/emergency response plan (to) be completed before reopening, not afterwards, when it could be too late,'' Barger said.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the investigation into the cause of the leak is continuing. Regardless of that study, the agencies last week cleared the way for the Southern California Gas Co. to resume injections of natural gas to store at the facility.

“In order to protect public safety and the environment, this facility will be held to the most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation and will store only the minimum gas necessary to supply the Los Angeles area,'' said Ken Harris, DOGGR oil and gas supervisor. “The extensive testing, retrofits and new safety measures ensure the wells are in sound operating condition today.''

CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan said the facility will be restricted to about 28 percent of its operating capacity, “just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area.''

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 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.

“Aliso Canyon is an important part of Southern California's energy system, supporting the reliability of natural gas and electricity services for millions of people,'' according to the Gas Co. “SoCalGas has met -- and in many cases, exceeded -- the rigorous requirements of the state's comprehensive safety review.''

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 Porter Ranch-area residents. The leak began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

But despite the seal of approval from the CPUC and the DOGGR, James Mansdorfer, who was formerly responsible for managing SoCalGas' storage wells and reservoirs, told DOGGR he was concerned that movement on the Santa Susana fault would damage the casing and tubing of every well at the site, resulting in a far worse leak than the one of 2015-16, according to court papers.

In court papers filed Monday, attorneys for the county argued that Aliso Canyon “cannot withstand'' a major earthquake, and there is a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of such a temblor occurring in the Aliso Canyon area over the next 50 years.

Since 2006, there have been over 100 earthquakes in the Aliso Canyon area, with 16 ranging from 2.0 to 4.7 in magnitude, according to the Daily News.

SoCalGas officials said Mansdorfer's concerns were “carefully considered'' by state regulators before they decided the facility is safe to resume limited operations.

“While we do not agree with the former employee's position, safety concerns raised by current or former employees are taken seriously,'' according to SoCalGas. “For that reason, when this employee informed us of his concerns last year, we shared that information with the state regulators.''

Claims being made by attorneys for the county in hopes of preventing renewed operations at Aliso Canyon are “baseless and wrong,'' according to SoCalGas. “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.''

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