Public hearing continues over Aliso Canyon gas storage facility operations

A hearing conducted by state regulators to gather public input on a proposal to allow Southern California Gas Co. to resume injecting natural gas into the Aliso Canyon public storage facility continued Thursday night, one day after a meeting was cut short due to shouting by project opponents.

Wednesday night's session, the first of the two-day hearing, ended an hour earlier than planned because of calls by hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents to halt the reopening of the storage facility.

"Shut it all down ... forever!'' protesters chanted, demanding that the cause of a 4-month-long methane leak at the facility last year be determined before any thought be given to reopening the 3,600-acre gas field just north of Porter Ranch.

Officials with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission have recommended that gas injections resume but at reduced amounts and lower pressure levels than those requested by SoCalGas.

SoCalGas officials again insisted that the facility is safe. Aliso Canyon "has undergone comprehensive testing and physical changes over the last year,'' Gas Co. spokesman Chris Gilbride said. "We have also introduced new processes and monitoring systems that provide additional layers of security.''

Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, Los Angeles Councilman Mitch Englander and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger were among those attending the meeting Wednesday night, and they tried to calm the boisterous crowd.

The hearing required by law and conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission and Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources resumed at 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Woodland Hills.

DOGGR officials concluded in a letter sent to SoCalGas in mid-January 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 the four-month gas leak from October 2015 to February 2016 that spewed 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air.

According to state regulators, 34 of the 114 wells at the facility had passed a series of safety tests by mid-January, indicating natural gas again can be safely injected 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 was 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 field 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.

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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