Last week, California regulators and Southern California Gas Company, which operates the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, issued a report warning that a continued shutdown of the facility, the site of the worst methane leak in state history, would lead to blackouts throughout the summer.
The regulators and the company have proposed restarting gas injections into the Aliso Canyon facility in the coming weeks, but Porter Ranch area residents — 1,800 of whom had to be evacuated due to health impacts of the methane leak — are challenging the report’s findings and calling for permanent closure of Aliso Canyon, one of the largest gas storage facilities in the US.
Aliso Canyon has been shut down since January. The leak started in October of last year. Two and a half months later, Governor Jerry Brown finally declared a state of emergency, but it would take SoCalGas, as the company is known, another month and a half to finally stop the leak.
As much as 100,000 metric tons of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and a climate pollutant said to be as much as 84-times as potent as carbon dioxide over the first two decades after its release, poured into Earth’s atmosphere before SoCalGas managed to plug the leak.
Like residents of the nearby community in Porter Ranch, environmentalists are calling for Aliso Canyon to be permanently shut down. Tim O’Connor, California Oil & Gas Director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said that the time has come for the Golden State “to end the gas monopoly” and go all in on clean energy.
“SoCalGas has failed to manage the integrity of Aliso Canyon, and now the reliability of the power system looks to be in jeopardy,” O’Connor said in a statement. “Southern California is simply too reliant on natural gas and gas storage provided by one market participant.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, O’Connor added. The ongoing crisis prompted by SoCalGas’s methane leak shows how important it is to reform the market to allow renewable energy, demand response and other low-carbon technologies to compete with natural gas and usher in a safer, cleaner and more resilient energy market, he said.
“And under no circumstances should Aliso Canyon ever be returned to service, even for a short period of time, if the company and the state cannot guarantee that it will be operated safely and with zero leaks, and provide hard evidence to that effect.”
Of course, cleanup and mitigation of the damage done by the SoCalGas leak has now become a priority as well.
California regulators released a final Aliso Canyon mitigation plan last week that calls for the company to offset the climate damage done by the release of 100,000 metric tons of methane from its facility by funding clean energy, efficiency measures, and programs to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
The plan is ambitious and the strategy it lays out is sound, the EDF’s O’Connor said in a statement. But this is only the start of a lengthy cleanup process. And SoCalGas is already trying to evade taking full responsibility in any way it can, challenging almost every aspect of the mitigation plan devised by California regulators.
That’s a major problem, because the company’s commitment to the mitigation plan is entirely voluntary, since there is no state law that allows the government to regulate methane leaks at natural gas storage facilities.
The Natural Resource Defense Council’s Alex Jackson wrote in a blog post that while the plan “sets a high bar in many respects, the limitations of relying on the gas company’s voluntary pledge have left it bereft of key implementation details and facing an uncertain future.”
The California Air Resources Board has joined in a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against SoCalGas by the LA City attorney, the state attorney general and the county of Los Angeles, which could eventually give California officials the legal standing to force the company to mitigate the damage from its massive gas leak.
The LA Times Editorial Board recently called the company’s response to the disaster “hugely disappointing,” and lamented the fact that it did not appear the law could be used to compel SoCalGas’s compliance with the mitigation plan.
“Company leaders repeatedly said they recognized the tremendous impact the leak had on both Porter Ranch and on California’s effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” the board wrote in an editorial. “Chief Executive Dennis Arriola said the company would work with state regulators to develop a mitigation plan. The company ought to follow through on the letter and the spirit of its promise to fully repair the damage of the Aliso Canyon leak.”
Overhead photo of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad taken December 17, 2015. Photo by Earthworks / Flickr.com.