State regulators conclude Aliso Canyon facility can reopen at reduced amounts

- 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 Gas Co. 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 SoCalGas has one year to either repair them to required safety standards or take them out of service. One of them is already being tested.

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. Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, both at the Trillium Room of the Hilton Woodland Hills, 6360 Canoga Ave.

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.

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