Will Aliso Canyon open again? Feinstein backs bill to keep it closed for now

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California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday announced her support for a state bill that would stop the reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility until the root cause of a massive leak that occurred there is determined.

“I believe it is important for state regulators and the public to be fully aware of what caused the disastrous natural gas leak last year before proceeding to determine whether the facility is safe to reopen,” Feinstein wrote in a letter to state Sen. Henry Stern, who co-authored Senate Bill 57, which would continue a moratorium on gas injections and withdrawals at the Southern California Gas Co. facility until an independent study determines the cause of the leak.

A four-month gas leak at the facility near Porter Ranch from October 2015 to February 2016 spewed nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane into the air and displaced thousands of residents.

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

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

“While well-intentioned, SB 57 does not enhance safety at Aliso Canyon,” SoCalGas said in a statement on Feb. 3. “Instead, it needlessly puts more than 20million people, thousands of businesses, and critical facilities, like electric generators, refineries, universities, and hospitals, at risk of natural gas and electricity interruption.”

Feinstein’s action comes as the window for public comment on the nation’s largest natural gas leak came to a close.

The comment period ended at the close of business Monday, the same day a dozen public interest and advocacy groups chided Gov. Jerry Brown on what they say is his spotty environmental record and called for the closing of the Aliso Canyon storage field.

Today regulators from the state oil and gas division and the Public Utilities Commission will start reviewing the written public comment and other documents and eventually make a decision on Aliso Canyon’s fate.

The pubic will also get to review the written comments submitted to the oil and gas division, but it is not known when that will happen.

“We will make the comments available to the public after they are compiled and private information redacted, along with our analysis and responses,” division spokeswoman Teresa Schilling said in an email.

And there is no timeline for a final ruling.

“Safety is the guiding principle, and we will take as long as is needed for review,” said Schilling.

A dozen public interest groups on Monday released a report critical of Brown’s environmental record and called for the halt on operations at the storage facility above Porter Ranch.

The groups’ report claims Brown’s energy regulators are in a “race” to get Aliso Canyon back online and maintain that the governor is falling short on environmental regulation in six out of seven key categories, even though he’s been critical of President Donald Trump’s approach to environmental issues.

“Despite Brown’s national profile for fighting climate change, and even as he serves as a foil to Trump’s anti-environmental policies, Brown is not as green as he could be,” the coalition said in a statement. “His record is ‘murky’ at best on a scale of ‘clean’ to ‘dirty.’

The report card was put together by Liza Tucker, energy project director for Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog.

Now opponents of the gas field are worried about a rush to judgment.

“It’s clear they want to re-open it, but we don’t need to do that,” Tucker said. “We have power already. We don’t need this facility. We have plenty of natural gas via pipelines.”

One of the mitigation measures implemented after well SS-25 failed in October 2015 was requiring the gas company to calculate supply and demand on a daily basis rather than forecasting it 30 days in advance.

Regulators and gas company officials speculated that with Aliso Canyon down, there could be power outages in the summer and natural gas shortages in the winter.

“Guess what? We had no blackouts,” Tucker said.

The report claims that Brown has expanded the burning of heat-trapping natural gas and nurtured oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing while stifling efforts to protect the public from harm.

For example, it says that under Brown, the number of active onshore oil and gas wells jumped by 23 percent since the year before he was elected governor.

“We’re not flunking Gov. Brown,” Tucker said. “We’re giving him like a C minus or a D plus. I think if he reopens Aliso he gets an F.”

Brown has kept a low profile regarding the leak. After the well blew, the governor did not declare a state of emergency until early January 2016.

“We expect the process will continue to be guided by facts, science, safety, objective analysis, public input and the requirements set forth in statute and the emergency order,” Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman, said about reopening Aliso Canyon.

Regarding the criticism of Brown’s overall environmental record, Westrup added, “Same drivel, different day.”

Granada Hills resident Jane Flower, who lives just over a mile away from the SoCalGas field, said on a conference call that she is still suffering symptoms from the massive leak. She and her husband, Bernard, voluntarily evacuated the community for seven months.

She believes that the community is still contaminated.

“I was very excited to come home,” she said. “Eight hours after I got home, my stomach blew up and it looked like I was pregnant.”

The bill by Stern, D-Canoga Park, would block regulators from ruling on Aliso Canyon until Texas-based Blade Energy Partners completes its analysis of the root cause of the leak.

On Friday, SoCalGas said in an email that it would oppose Stern’s bill, noting that a federal report said the leak happened in the well’s outer casing. As a result, gas can now only be extracted through the well tube, a safer method, they said.

But Blade’s work is not yet finished.

“We understand that some members of the community are concerned about the status of the root-cause analysis, and we appreciate that some in the Legislature are trying to address those concerns. However, Senate Bill 57 is unnecessary,” said SoCalGas in its email. “To protect the reliability of natural gas and electricity services for the more than 20 million people that we serve in communities across Southern California, we respectfully oppose SB 57.”

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