Southern California Could Face Summer Power Outages Due to Gas Leak

The blowout near Porter Ranch crippled a major energy supply for the region and required a partial shutdown

Parts of Southern California might face 14 days of electrical power disruptions due to unavailable natural gas after a monthslong leak at a storage facility in the San Fernando Valley, leaders from key energy agencies said Tuesday.

The blowout crippled a major energy supply for the region and required a partial shutdown. The storage field has not operated at full capacity since the leak was discovered in October, and the chairman of the California Energy Commission said Tuesday that the partial shutdown could lead to power cuts for up to 14 days as demand skyrockets during the heat of summer.

The information was presented at a meeting of staff members from the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The agencies worked together to assess how the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility would impact summer electricity supplies parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

They submitted a draft plan Tuesday that provided a range of recommendations to minimize the possibility of electrical disruptions during the summer. The field still has some gas in it, but officials are planning for expected shortages when gas is needed to power electric plants during peak summer demands.

Gas shortages to electrical power plants supplied by Aliso Canyon could interrupt supplies to customers, according to the agencies.

"Aliso Canyon plays an essential role in maintaining both natural gas and electric reliability in the greater Los Angeles area," according to the plan. "As a result, the facility’s limited current operations create a distinct possibility of electricity service interruptions in the coming summer months."

Possible actions include the use of 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas preserved in Aliso Canyon to be used during peak demand periods. The gas was preserved through an order by the California Public Utilities Commission. 

The recommendations include "strong energy conservation programs," such as the state's Flex Alert campaign, which warns residents and businesses to reduce energy consumption on high-demand days. Customers can sign up for alerts, issued by the California Independent System Operator.

Those plans and other measures "will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of gas shortages" that could cause outages this summer, according to the plan. 

The draft action plan will be discussed at a public workshop with the energy agencies Friday in Woodland Hills. The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Warner Center Marriott, 21850 Oxnard Street.

It is estimated the leak, active from Oct. 23 to Feb. 18, released as much as 100,000 tons of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, and an undetermined amount of different hydrocarbons, sulfur compounds, and other contaminants. 

Health officials said there was no risk of long-term health problems, although the presence of mercaptan -- an odorant added to natural gas -- could cause temporary discomfort. Many residents reported symptoms such as nausea, headaches and stomach problems, prompting them to move into temporary housing out of the area as teams worked to cap the leak.

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