The well failure at Southern California Gas Co.’s huge Aliso Canyon storage facility is evoking the worst of energy fears: snuffed out pilot lights, rolling blackouts and a system too unreliable for the modern age.
Now that the utility has plugged the leak that began Oct. 23, fouling the air with natural gas and methane, attention has turned to the future of the gas storage field, which is the largest in California and ranks fifth nationwide.
On Monday, the Senate energy committee will hear a bill by Sen. Fran Pavley (D Agoura Hills) to extend a moratorium on injecting gas into Aliso Canyon, ordered by Gov.canada goose Jerry Brown, until Southern California Gas completes safety measures that ensure that the community won’t be subjected to future gas leaks.
By Pavley’s account, two thirds of Porter Ranch residents near the storage facility favor closing the operation for good.
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But that suggestion has prompted a great deal of hand wringing. The heads of the three major state energy agencies fired off a joint letter to the governor raising concerns about system reliability. An in depth study is underway with a report due back by April on the effect of the loss of gas storage at Aliso Canyon.
Questions abound about whether permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon facility would destabilize the Los Angeles area energy supply.
“The last thing Southern California Gas needs, quite frankly, is for a second well to leak or crack,” Pavley said. At the same time, “I realize it can’t be done,” she said of permanently closing Aliso Canyon.
A lack of connections between the Southern California Gas system and those of the state’s other gas utilities such as Pacific Gas Electric Co., which operates a large field in Northern California.
Reliance on Aliso Canyon to supply 60% of the gas used by Southern California Gas’ 5.6 million residential customers, 215,000 commercial and industrial users, and 52 electric power plants. area is dependent on one natural gas facility,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D Sherman Oaks), during a news conference last week. “That’s why I can’t say shut it down.”
Even injecting gas into Aliso Canyon’s other wells depleted by the leak and to reduce pressure in the field isn’t a foregone conclusion without assurances that the facility is safe.
“I would say they’ve got a very heavy burden of proof,” Sherman said.
Southern California Gas is lobbying hard to ensure that the storage facility doesn’t permanently close. The utility says it is “committed to taking actions to prevent” another leak.
There’s a lot at stake for the utility.
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Gas storage is part of Southern California Gas’ long term strategy to capitalize on the need to stockpile excess electricity generated by solar and wind power. The entire energy industry and states across the country California in particular are seeking economical ways of capturing the power generated by these renewable sources.
Dennis Arriola, president and chief executive of Southern California Gas, told the Los Angeles Times editorial board last summer that the company was investigating the conversion of solar and wind generated electricity into a gas that could be injected into existing storage facilities. The technique, in use in Germany, employs electricity either to transform water into clean burning hydrogen gas or to combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane gas.
Shutting down Aliso Canyon could end that potential revenue stream.
Of more immediate concern is supplying customers when they need it most.
Porter Ranch area gas leak A gas well leak nearthe upscale San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch has poured fumes into the neighborhood. Since the leak began in October, thousands of residents have been relocated to temporary housing. Many are reporting health issues such as headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and dizziness.
A gas well leak nearthe upscale San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch has poured fumes into the neighborhood. Since the leak began in October, thousands of residents have been relocated to temporary housing. Many are reporting health issues such as headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and dizziness.
About a quarter of the natural gas that the utility delivers goes to fuel power plants. The commercial and industrial sector taps a quarter. And residential customers consume another 25%, with the rest used by wholesale customers, refineries and natural gas vehicle stations.
The natural gas still held in Aliso Canyon is expected to last about a year, unless unusual weather patterns force more use of heating and cooling systems that drive up electricity and gas demands.
“Without Aliso Canyon,” said Stephanie Donovan, a Southern California Gas spokeswoman, “gas supplies needed to meet Southern Californians’ demand would have to come from other sources, including other storage fields. Depending upon the nature of the demand, however, those sources could be too far from the Los Angeles Basin to meet peak demand.”