June 20–With an eye on greater demands on the energy grid coming as summer officially begins, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) this week has recommended increasing the natural gas storage volume at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, the site of the largest methane leak from a natural gas storage facility in U.S. history.
At the same time, the executive director of the CPUC’s Energy Division has called on the storage site’s operator, Southern California Gas, to provide detailed information about two of the utility’s natural gas pipelines that are out of service.
After conducting one of its assessments on the range of inventory from Aliso Canyon, the commission’s Energy Division advises raising storage volume from the current 24.6 billion cubic feet of gas to 34 billion cubic feet.
One billion cubic feet is enough to fuel about 5 million homes in the U.S. for one day.
The energy division based the increase on a pair of issues:
* The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) indicating “a much higher potential for challenging summer operating conditions” this year compared to previous summers, and
* SoCalGas’ two pipeline outages may make it difficult for the utility to fill its storage fields to a sufficient level to ensure energy reliability this coming winter.
In the past, 86.2 billion cubic feet represented the maximum amount of gas that could be stored at Aliso Canyon.
The storage facility was pronounced safe to come back online in July 2017, but on a limited basis.
As for the two pipelines that are out of service, SoCalGas Line 300 has been down since July 2016 and Line 235-2 ruptured last October. Line 3000 is expected to return in September but the return date for Line 235-2 is unclear.
In a letter to SoCalGas president Bret Lane, CPUC Energy Division director Edward Randolph said the lengthy periods of time the lines have been out “are causes for concern” and wants an update on their status by the end of the month. Randolph also said the commission will consider removing the pipelines from the utility’s rate-base and customer rates since the lines are offline.
In an email, SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride did not say why the pipelines are down but said the utility “will continue to work diligently to safely assess, repair and restore service to the pipelines as quickly as possible.”
The Aliso Canyon leak was first detected in October 2015 but was not permanently contained until February 2016, forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 households in the Porter Ranch neighborhood.
All told, about 100,000 metric tons of methane were emitted. According to a UC Davis study the total greenhouse gas pollution equaled the emissions of a half-million cars driven for a year.
SoCalGas, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, says the site is safe and needed to assure reliability to the California energy grid.
Many of the residents near Aliso Canyon have called for shutting down the facility and after the site reopened California Energy Commission chairman Robert Weisenmiller said his staff was ready to work with state officials to “phase out” Aliso within 10 years.
The CPUC’s assessment released Monday expressed caution.
“Given the precarious state of the SoCalGas system, Southern California was fortunate to have experienced extremely mild temperatures for most of winter 2017-18, with sustained cold weather hitting only late in the season,” the Energy Division report said. “However, hoping for continued mild weather is not a prudent strategy for ensuring future energy reliability.”
Gilbride pointed to the assessment, saying, “The cold snap we experienced in late February and early March demonstrates the importance of local natural gas storage to the reliability of our energy systems.”
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