SoCal Gas Presses To Reopen Gas Storage Field, Raising Specter Of Hot Water Shortages

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The risk that Los Angeles neighborhoods could have power outages due to a shortage of gas storage will be lower this winter than it was over the summer, state energy officials said Friday.

However a gas company official said the state is underestimating the risk that homes and businesses could run short of gas this winter if Southern California Gas Co. is not permitted to reopen the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility soon.

Every winter morning and evening, gas use surges as home furnaces and hot water heaters fire up all over the L.A. Basin, providing heat and hot showers. Those twice-daily peaks in usage make SoCal Gas Vice President Rodger Schwecke nervous about the gas supply to homes and businesses.

"Aliso Canyon is used to meet those local demand needs on an hourly basis," Schwecke said at a state-sponsored workshop on energy reliability in Diamond Bar. "Without Aliso Canyon, you run that risk that you cannot meet those hourly swings."

Los Angeles has not gone through a winter without the backup gas supply at the SoCal Gas Aliso Canyon gas storage reservoir since it was converted from a depleted oil field in the 1970s. SoCal Gas used gas from Aliso Canyon on 84 days to serve customer needs during the November-March winter months from 2012 to 2015, Schwecke said.

The facility has been shut down since the big Porter Ranch gas leak, which was plugged in February. The field cannot reopen until safety inspections are completed and state agencies grant permission.

SoCal Gas wants it opened up as soon as possible. Schwecke predicted the company would have enough wells that meet state standards by late September or early October to reopen the field. However, it would still have to undergo a state inspection and be subject to a public hearing.

The state's action plan for energy reliability presented Friday at the workshop is, "an overoptimistic assessment of the winter reliability picture because it doesn't include those hourly swings," Schwecke said.

The risk of energy shortages was acute for operators of gas-fired power plants over the summer, but it eases over the winter, when demand for power is lower and the company has other sources of generating power. The bulk of gas usage shifts in the winter to homes and businesses.    

State energy officials don't agree that the risk is high that residential customers could be without gas. They cite a state law that would ensure supplies to large-scale gas customers like power plants were curtailed first, said state Energy Commission spokesman Albert Lundeen.

The prospect that Aliso Canyon might reopen soon doesn't sit well with several environmental groups, including Consumer Watchdog, Food and Water Watch and the residents group Save Porter Ranch. They say the region can get along without the gas storage field which they argue endangers nearby residents.

Porter Ranch resident Kristina Zitkovich said her 10-year-old daughter, who had no previous record of medical problems, has suffered frequent migraine headaches since the well blowout.    

Speaking to a panel of officials of state energy agencies, she said, "I know there's a lot of suits behind me who say, 'Open, open, open'. But it shouldn't open up just so they can make a few bucks."

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