Judge Denies Request To Block SoCalGas From Reopening Aliso Canyon

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Friday denied a county effort to block a restart of natural gas injections at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch.

Officials had asked for a temporary restraining order blocking the resumption of gas injections, but Judge John Shepard
Wiley Jr. ruled that he did not have the authority to “interfere” in the operation of a facility governed by the California Public Utilities Commission.

“The commission’s order is `inject.’ The county’s demand is `do not inject,”‘ Wiley said in a written order. “Doing both is impossible. The conflict is direct.”

County officials are expected to appeal the judge’s decision, according to KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta.

The restart of gas injections could begin as early as Saturday, Peschiutta reported.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger had called for the facility — the scene of the largest methane leak in U.S. history — to remain out of service until a study into the cause of the 2015 leak is completed.

Prior to the decision, dozens of protesters held a rally Friday afternoon outside the Central Civil West Courthouse in downtown L.A. where the hearing took place.

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 Porter Ranch-area residents. The leak began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

RELATED: The latest coverage on the Aliso Canyon methane leak 

The leak occurred in an over 60-year-old well, one of 115 wells at a vacant oil field that was converted in the 1970s to store gas a mile-and-a-half underground where crude oil had been removed. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the West.

The leak led to mass complaints of health issues ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to nausea and cancer; issues that persisted after the leak was capped.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducted air and dust tests inside more than 100 homes around Aliso Canyon, but found nothing that could explain any long-term health effects from the leak.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District told CBS2 in May that it analyzed chemical levels during random years and found them to be safe.

Attorneys for the county also contend that a detailed seismic-safety study is needed to assess the danger of a large earthquake striking the facility.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the investigation into the cause of the leak is continuing. Regardless of that study, the agencies last week cleared the way for the Southern California Gas Co. to resume injections of natural gas to store at the facility.

CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan said the facility will be restricted to about 28 percent of its operating capacity, “just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area.”

Concerns have been raised in the months since the leak about the possibility of electrical shortages due to the lack of natural gas from the Porter Ranch-area facility to operate power plants. Critics have blasted such claims as scare tactics meant to pressure regulators into allowing Aliso Canyon to resume operating — an accusation SoCalGas executives vehemently deny.

But despite the seal of approval from the CPUC and the DOGGR, James Mansdorfer, who was formerly responsible for managing SoCalGas’ storage wells and reservoirs, told DOGGR he was concerned that movement on the Santa Susana fault would damage the casing and tubing of every well at the site, resulting in a far worse leak than the one of 2015-16, according to court papers.

In court papers filed Monday, attorneys for the county argued that Aliso Canyon “cannot withstand” a major earthquake, and there is a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of such a temblor occurring in the Aliso Canyon area over the next 50 years.

SoCalGas officials said Mansdorfer’s concerns were “carefully considered” by state regulators before they deemed the facility safe to resume limited operations.

Claims being made by attorneys for the county in hopes of preventing renewed operations at Aliso Canyon are “baseless and wrong,” according to SoCalGas. “Aliso Canyon is safe to operate. This is not just our conclusion, but the conclusion of the only state regulators with lawful jurisdiction and expertise to oversee the safety of our operations.”

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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