Post-Aliso Canyon gas storage report

Monday, October 24, 2016

A task force has released its report on the safety of underground natural gas storage, following the Aliso Canyon leak in California.  The Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety was formed by Congress and the Obama administration to analyze what happened at Aliso Canyon and to recommend actions to reduce the likelihood of future leaks from underground natural gas storage facilities. Its final report, "Ensuring Safe and Reliable Underground Natural Gas Storage," presents the task force's findings.

Natural gas is an important fuel used for heat and electric power generation, currently meeting about 30% of U.S. energy needs, as well as industrial processes.  Over 400 natural gas storage facilities exist in the U.S., balancing supply and demand for the fuel, and providing quick access to large volumes of gas during times of high demand like cold snaps or heat waves.

On October 23, 2015, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) discovered a methane leak from its Aliso Canyon Storage Field in Los Angeles County.  Drilled into a sandstone formation approximately 8,500 feet below ground, the Aliso Canyon facility is among the nation's largest natural gas storage facilities, with a total storage capacity of 86 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas.  The leak, which became the largest such leak in U.S. history, continued for nearly four months until it was permanently sealed. The task force report states that the leak initially released approximately 53 metric tons of methane per hour, for a total of approximately 1,300 metric tons of methane per day.

The Aliso Canyon incident provoked intense concern about what happened, and how future events could be avoided.  Congress enacted the SAFE PIPES Act, and a group of administrative agencies convened as the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety.

The task force has now released its report, which provides over 40 recommendations relating to well integrity, health and the environment, and reliability.  Key recommendations include development by gas storage operators of an evaluation program to develop a baseline for well status and generally phase out old wells with single-point-of-failure designs, preparing for leaks and coordinating on emergency response, and developing power system planners' and operators' understanding of the risks that gas storage disruptions could create for the electric system.

Meanwhile, a state investigation into the Aliso Canyon leak remains ongoing.

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