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Gas Injections Resume At Aliso Canyon More Than 20 Months After Massive Leak

LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20170731/gas-injections-resume-at-aliso-canyon-more-than-20-months-after-massive-leak

Despite concerns raised by residents and Los Angeles County leaders, Southern California Gas Co. said Monday it is restarting natural gas injections at Aliso Canyon wells and that the company has completed all safety measures to do so.

Throughout Monday the company issued mixed messages about when injections resumed. But a letter sent to Porter Ranch residents Monday made it clear, confirming that SoCalGas had “started the process to resume limited injection operations.”

That memo followed a flurry of legal actions over the weekend. On Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge said he had no jurisdiction to stop the injections because two state statutes barred him from deciding on legal challenges filed by Los Angeles County. His ruling produced a ripple effect of filings with a higher court that spilled into Monday afternoon. That’s when the state 2nd District Court of Appeal dissolved a temporary hold on injections at the natural gas storage facility.

That allowed SoCalGas to continue operations.

“SoCalGas must begin injections to comply with the (California Public Utilities Commission) directive to maintain sufficient natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon to support the reliability of the region’s natural gas and electricity systems,” SoCalGas said in the letter sent to residents.

The twists and turns in the courts came after the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources and the utilities commission said earlier this month that about a third, or 42, of the wells at the Aliso Canyon facility are safe for SoCalGas to inject gas again.

Activists and residents have held rallies and petition drives and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to step in and authorize shutting down the Aliso Canyon natural gas field above their Porter Ranch homes in the northwestern San Fernando Valley. That’s where in 2015 a massive natural gas leak sickened thousands, forcing them to leave their homes temporarily.

A reported 100,000 metric tons of methane spewed from one of 115 aged wells over more than three months, a leak considered unprecedented. The leak was capped in February 2016, and 60 percent of the wells were taken offline. But the root cause of the leak continues to be investigated, state regulators said.

• TIMELINE: Aliso Canyon gas leak’s impact on Porter Ranch

Local leaders have said a root cause has never been established and that a seismic study and risk assessment/emergency response plan for Aliso Canyon aren’t finished. In addition, a former SoCalGas manager warned his supervisors that a “catastrophic loss of life” is possible in the event of a major earthquake in the Aliso Canyon area.

Area residents also have made almost 950 complaints of nosebleeds, headaches and nausea to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health since March 2016.

Monday’s developments outraged residents, said Alexandra Nagy, senior organizer for Food & Water Watch, a group that has supported the Porter Ranch community.

The residents have aimed their frustration at Brown, saying he’s refusing to acknowledge the issue because of familial ties to Sempra, the parent company of SoCalGas.

“Governor Brown’s sister sits on Sempra’s board and stands to make profit from the reopening of Aliso Canyon,” Nagy said in a statement. “It’s disgusting that this so-called green Governor is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and his conflict of interest is the culprit here for decisions that favor SoCalGas and Sempra’s profits over the health and safety of Californians.”

But the governor’s spokeswoman said those claims “are totally baseless.”

Deputy press secretary Ali Bay said the governor has asked the chairman of the Energy Commission “to plan for the permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.”

A report examining Brown’s alleged ties to Sempra is expected to be released today by the group Consumer Watchdog.

In the meantime, attorneys representing Los Angeles County said they’re still awaiting a ruling on parts of the motion the county filed to block injections.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was disappointed SoCalGas didn’t honor its commitment to give 24 hours’ notice to the Los Angeles County Fire Department that it would restart injections.

The county will monitor all activities at Aliso Canyon, she said.

“The advance notice was to allow the Fire Department an opportunity for a site visit and walk-through with L.A. City Fire Department and a review of the updated emergency response plan,” she said.

Earlier this year, a state bill stalled that was aimed at temporarily keeping the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility shut down until an investigation of the leak was completed. SB 57 is expected to be heard again in late August, said State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, who-co-authored the bill.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” Stern said. “We’ve got to keep pushing. There are still so many unanswered questions.”

He also said Brown may still change his stance.

“I’ve not given up on Jerry Brown,” Stern said. “He’s shown a capacity to lead, and I think this could be one of those moments. Given his leadership this year on green energy and climate change, he’s got to recognize the disconnect people feel on the ground.”