Does LA-Area Need All That Natural Gas from Aliso Canyon? Not Really, Study Finds

Southern California won’t plunge into darkness this summer or next winter if the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility remains untapped for a while longer, according to conclusions reached in a Los Angeles County study.

The findings, compiled by researchers with EES Consulting Inc., contradict warnings by state regulators of rolling blackouts and no heat if withdrawals of natural gas from wells in Aliso Canyon continued to be postponed.

Consultants said in the study several mitigation efforts that included using other sources of reliable energy and conservation worked well enough so that withdrawing natural gas from the wells in Aliso Canyon is unnecessary in the short term. In addition, the wells contain enough natural gas in case of emergencies so that injecting them with more product also wasn’t needed.

“There is sufficient time to aggressively implement demand-side mitigation measures that will eliminate the need to withdraw gas from Aliso Canyon during the next winter season,” according to researchers.

• RELATED STORY: Aliso Canyon bill hits road block in state Legislature

The study comes into public light just as a state bill aimed at temporarily keeping the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility shut down will be heard today by the Senate Energy Committee. Specifically, Senate Bill 57, co-authored by State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, calls for a deep examination into the cause of a massive 112-day natural gas leak from one of the Aliso Canyon wells. From October 2015 until February 2016, an aged natural gas well in Aliso Canyon spewed more than 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. The event, which has been described as unprecedented, sickened hundreds of residents and prompted the relocation of more than 8,300 households and two schools in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

Residents from nearby Porter Ranch were most affected and have called on state regulators and Gov. Jerry Brown to decommission the facility once and for all. In addition, Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit against state regulators last month to keep the facility closed until the cause of the massive leak is known.

“This report confirms what we’ve been saying and is that the urgency to reinject is not urgent, and that they can go forward with root-cause analysis,” said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

• RELATED STORY: LA leader fights to boost Porter Ranch health study, says gas leak settlement ‘ignores’ community

But Southern California Gas Co., operators of the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, maintain that use of the wells remains critical to the region’s energy consumption. In January, state regulators allowed SoCalGas to withdraw natural gas from functional wells in the area in anticipation of low winter temperatures.

“The consultant’s report to the county demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about how our natural gas and electricity systems work,” said SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride in a statment. “As the state clearly recognizes, Aliso Canyon is a critical energy resource that is necessary to maintain the reliability of our region’s natural gas and electricity systems. The state’s energy experts have concluded Aliso Canyon is necessary in three consecutive technical assessments. And, unlike the county’s report, the state’s assessments have been independently reviewed or verified by experts at the National Labs.”

Several state regulators, including the California Public Utilities Commission, offered cautious responses to the study, saying that voluntary reductions of gas usage on high demand days this summer would have to be used “if Aliso Canyon is unavailable for withdraws.”

“While the need for Aliso Canyon to meet demand in L.A. on high gas demand days has been reduced over the past year due to the success of mitigation measures and infrastructure upgrades to the electric transmission system, there is still a risk that there would be insufficient supplies of gas during a summer heat wave that could lead to curtailment of electric service,” Terrie Prosper, spokeswoman for the CPUC, said in a statement Monday.

“The CPUC will respond to the study as part of changes made to the final report in response to all comments,” she added.

• RELATED STORY: CSUN geology professor digs into Aliso Canyon fault

Both the CPUC and the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources are weighing whether Aliso Canyon can reopen as inspections of the wells continue.

“So far, 42 have passed all six of the tests required to resume injection, should it be allowed to resume at some point,” said Don Drysdale, spokesman for the oil and gas agency.

A spokesman with the California Energy Commission said only that several agencies will continue to work together “to assure the energy system for Southern California remains reliable given the situation at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field.”

Matt Pakucko, president of Save Porter Ranch, said the results in the county study came as no surprise and only confirmed that the region can live without natural gas from Aliso Canyon.

“How many reports, how many energy experts is it going to take?” he asked.

Does LA-Area Need All That Natural Gas from Aliso Canyon? Not Really, Study Finds, by Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News, April 3, 2017.

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