With a state appeals court rejecting Los Angeles County's bid to block renewed operations at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, Southern California Gas Co. officials announced Monday it has resumed the process of injecting gas into the basin.
In a message to residents, SoCalGas announced that the company has "completed the steps necessary to safely begin injections" at the facility— the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.
According to the utility, the company had to complete six steps before resuming operations at Aliso Canyon, including submitting risk-management and other reports, making a thorough check for leaks, conducting a flyover to record background methane emissions and performing tasks on a "pre-start compressor and equipment checklist."
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"SoCalGas must begin injections to comply with the CPUC directive to maintain sufficient natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon to support the reliability of the region's natural gas and electricity systems," according to the Gas Co.'s community message.
The announcement came just hours after Los Angeles County filed a roughly 60-page motion with the state 2nd District Court of Appeal in hopes of winning a court order blocking the resumption of gas injections at Aliso Canyon. By mid-afternoon, however, the court issued an order denying the county's request for an immediate stay.
On July 19, regulators from the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources ruled that SoCalGas could resume limited injections of natural gas into Aliso Canyon. State officials said the facility would be permitted to operate at roughly 28 percent of its capacity, enough to prevent any power shortages in the Southland.
The county filed court papers last week seeking a restraining order to block the effort, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. rejected the request, saying he did not have the authority to "interfere" in the operation of a facility governed by the CPUC.
Later that day, the county went to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal, which issued a stay late Friday blocking any resumption of gas injections at Aliso Canyon.
The appellate court, however, lifted the stay late Saturday in response to papers filed by SoCalGas, leading to Monday's renewed round of legal maneuvering.
The Aliso Canyon facility has been largely out of operation since the massive leak of late 2015 and early 2016 that forced thousands of residents from their homes and prompted calls by some residents to shutter the facility altogether.
The Aliso Canyon leak was discovered on Oct. 24, 2015, and continued emanating methane until a Feb. 11, 2016, announcement that the leak was capped. The leak poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air.
At its peak, the escaping gas forced an estimated 15,000 Porter Ranch area residents to temporarily relocate.
In their Monday morning court filing seeking to block resumed activity at Aliso Canyon, attorneys for the county argued that state regulators failed to meet all of the requirements needed to authorize a re-start of the facility.
DOGGR "has not addressed the substantial seismic risk of again injecting gas into the Aliso Canyon facility, nor has it conducted a public hearing after completion of its safety assessment," according to the latest filing. "And, it has not made any effort to comply with" state environmental requirements.
SoCalGas officials insist that Aliso Canyon is safe to re-open, contending that the utility has gone above and beyond state safety requirements.
"In fact, DOGGR says Aliso Canyon 'has undergone more safety and regulatory scrutiny during this period than any of California's 13 other underground natural gas storage facilities, and likely more safety scrutiny from a regulatory agency than any other gas storage facility in the United
States,'" SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said.
SoCalGas officials have also rejected arguments over seismic safety, saying the issue was "carefully considered" by state regulators before they decided the facility is safe to resume limited operations.
In the utility's Monday announcement of resumed activity at the facility, officials said Aliso Canyon "will be held to what regulators have called the most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation," including continued testing of wells, pressure monitoring of all
wells, four-times-daily visual well inspections and operation of a fence-line methane monitoring system.
Los Angeles County Supervisors Kathryn Barger said she and other county officials believe the facility should not reopen until a study is completed on the cause of the 2015-16 gas leak. They also contend further study is needed on the possible damage a large earthquake could cause to the storage field.
"I strongly believe that without a root-cause analysis, seismic risk assessments and a long-term energy reliability study, this facility — which jeopardized the health and safety of local families for months — should not be allowed to reopen," Barger said.