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Utilities Commission Approves Aliso Canyon Investigation

Credit: Associated Press

Above: crews work on stopping a gas leak at a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles, Dec. 9, 2015.

Pursuant to state law, the California Public Utilities Commission opened a two-phase investigation Thursday of whether use of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch can be reduced or eliminated altogether.

The CPUC approved the probe at its meeting in San Francisco. According to the commission, the first phase will involve a "thorough analysis'' of whether the storage facility — site of a massive four-month gas leak that forced the temporary relocation of thousands of residents — can be taken out of use or reduced "while still maintaining electric and gas reliability for the region.''

The second phase will involve a review of the phase-one investigation, a decision on whether reduction or elimination is feasible and development of conditions and parameters if such a move is approved. A final decision by the commission is not expected until mid-2018.

CPUC officials said the review is mandated under recently approved state legislation, SB 380, which calls on the commission to begin the process no later than July 1.

"We have acted quickly and innovatively in the past 15 months to address reliability in the region impacted by the closure of Aliso Canyon, including staff analyses of reliability for winter and summer needs and fast- tracking the approval of energy storage units at key locations, all while conducting our investigation of the leak,'' Commissioner Liane M. Randolph said. "I appreciate the fact that Senate Bill 380 and now this proceeding provide us an opportunity to step back and take a more long-term, measured look at the reliability and rate impacts of potential closure or minimization of Aliso Canyon.''

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 residents. The leak began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

Southern California Gas Co. withdrew natural gas from the facility two days last month for the first time in about a year. Utility officials said the withdrawals were needed to maintain service levels in the face of stepped-up demand prompted by cold weather that gripped the region. Critics, however, contended the move was made in an effort by SoCalGas to sway state regulators to allow the utility to resume operations at Aliso Canyon.

According to SoCalGas, about 14.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas is still stored at Aliso Canyon.

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

State regulators held two public meetings last week on the proposal to allow the utility to resume injecting natural gas at Aliso, but one of the meetings was cut short due to shouting by hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents who want to stop the re-opening.

On Wednesday, SoCalGas reached an $8.5 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed against the utility by the South Coast Air Quality Management District over the leak. Part of that money will be directed toward an independent study of health effects from the leak.

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