It’s been nearly two years since a pipeline rupture at the SoCal Gas Aliso Canyon storage site north of Los Angeles caused the largest methane leak in U.S. history. It forced thousands of people out of their homes and was blamed for scores of illnesses.
After months of repair and safety upgrades, the California Public Utilities Commission and state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources cleared the facility to resume gas injection and storage at about 30 percent capacity.
Attorneys for the county are due in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday to seek a temporary restraining order blocking operations.
L.A. County says seismic and other risk assessments have yet to be completed. The Aliso Canyon facility sits on the Santa Susana fault line, which some experts predict could experience a major earthquake sometime in the next 50 years.
“And the fear is that could shear all or most of the wells and cause a gas leak far greater than the one a couple years ago,” says attorney Skip Miller.
“The analysis needs to be completed and it has not been. And then they (SoCal Gas) have to do a risk assessment, and prepare an emergency response plan in case, God forbid, there is a major earthquake.”
Neither SoCal Gas nor the California Public Utilities Commission responded to numerous interview requests. But in statements released this week, SoCal Gas said a host of safeguards to prevent any future leaks will be in effect if and when the site reopens, including daily spot inspections and aerial tests to measure background levels of methane.
SoCal Gas says a restart of Aliso Canyon is critical to meet the energy needs of the region, and that without it consumers could experience shortages and blackouts.
Critics call these claims “scare tactics,” pointing out that the predicted energy shortages never materialized in the year and a half since operation at Aliso Canyon ceased.
The five-month natural gas leak did, however, sicken scores of people and forced SoCal Gas to pay for an extensive health study of affected residents.
Ongoing protests in Porter Ranch continued this week when residents got wind of news that the gas injection and storage field was cleared to resume limited operation.
“At the end of the day people want to see this facility shut down and decommissioned,” says Alexandra Nagy of environmental watchdog group Food and Water Watch.
She applauds L.A. County’s effort to stall Aliso Canyon’s restart, but says county and state leaders need to keep pressing for a total and immediate shuttering of the aging natural gas facility.
“We haven’t needed it in the last year and half it has been offline,” says Nagy. “And with new renewable energy like battery storage coming on board in Southern California, we want to see a quick replacement of this facility.”
In a letter last week to the CPUC, the head of the California Energy Commission, Robert B. Weisenmiller, said, “Governor Brown has asked me to plan for the permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, and I urge the California Public Utilities Commission to do the same.”
On Tuesday, the CPUC holds a daylong public workshop in L.A. to discuss the long-term feasibility of keeping Aliso Canyon in operation.