Blackout Warnings From Porter Ranch Gas Leak Are Scare Tactics, Say Advocacy Groups

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Local advocacy groups accused state regulators Tuesday of buying in to scare tactics after a report released last week predicted 14 days of power outages and higher electricity rates in Southern California this summer if a San Fernando Valley natural gas storage facility remained offline.

Consumer Watchdog and Food & Water Watch said state regulators compiled a report that is flawed and presents data simply to benefit the Southern California Gas Co., which operates the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility near Porter Ranch. The storage field has remained offline since a breach in one of the 115 aged wells caused about 100,000 metric tons of methane to leak and prompted thousands of Porter Ranch residents to relocate.

The groups said last week’s report, prepared by the California Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, Independent System Operator, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, was released to scare residents as the Aliso Canyon storage facility’s future is under debate. Some local residents and environmentalists have called for the facility’s closure. Political leaders have called for major reforms to the industry’s regulations and for the SoCalGas to pay for all repairs.

Activists say the wording of the report lacks substantial evidence as to why Aliso Canyon should be opened, said Bill Powers, a consultant in energy and environmental engineering. Powers and Food & Water Watch submitted their own report to contradict the state’s findings.

“Virtually every page (of their report) has a subliminal message that says ‘we have to have this facility open’,” Powers said.

At issue are various statements that could be disputed, including that the Honor Rancho storage field, which is 10 miles from Aliso Canyon and located on the same Los Angeles pipeline loop, can’t be an effective substitute for Aliso Canyon to guarantee a reliable supply of natural gas, Powers said.

Also in dispute are the use of what activists called inflated estimates of natural gas demand in the LA basin during summer and winter peaks.

In response to the criticism of the report, SoCalGas released a statement saying that all the groups that prepared last week’s report agreed that the Aliso Canyon storage facility played a critical role in “ensuring the reliability of power service” for Southern California.

“As the state adds to its renewable energy portfolio, the need for locally stored natural gas will continue to grow because natural gas is an important safety net, underpinning renewable sources, like solar and wind, to ensure an uninterrupted power supply,” according to the statement. “A local supply of stored natural gas is crucial to achieving a more environmentally friendly power supply system. Regardless, we will continue working diligently within the robust framework of newly issued regulations to safely bring Aliso Canyon back online, and provide for the long-term reliability of our gas and electric supply.”

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, called on the public to lean on lawmakers to pressure the Public Utilities Commission to explain the information used to compile their report.

“The public has been betrayed and the Legislature should bring in the president of the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies to explain these misrepresentations under oath,” Court said. “Taxpayers have a right to know whether Southern California gas authored this report without any real state scrutiny and it was simply published under the state’s seal.”

The Public Utilities Commission and other agencies issued a joint response saying they disagree with the activists’ analysis.

“With the issuance of the Action Plan, we have done our part to identify potential risks, partner with local utilities to minimize those risks and mobilize customers to do what they can to save energy this summer,” according to their statement.

Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow said the Aliso Canyon gas leak was a wake up call for California to replace natural gas with renewable energy.

“We are disappointed that state agencies published bad data that supports the reopening of the gas field, which only serves to benefit SoCalGas at public expense,” Scow said. “Governor Brown and state agencies should keep the facility shut down permanently.”

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