PUC Not as Crazy about Storing Natural Gas under Cities as It Used to Be

Monday, July 02, 2012


Establishing natural gas storage facilities beneath homes, businesses and parks doesn’t appear to be as popular as it once was. For some, it may be the not-too-distant memory of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in September 2010 that killed eight people and razed a neighborhood that gives them pause over a plan to inject 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas into sandstone in southeast Sacramento.

For others, like California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) member Catherine J.K. Sandoval—whose family lived through gas leaks at a storage site under Montebello in Southern California 56 years ago that ended in evacuations and a lawsuit—memories go back a bit further. The CPUC put off a decision in early June on whether to give Sacramento Natural Gas Storage LLC approval to proceed with the project and will meet again in July. Four of the five board members have already indicated they are split on the project, while Sandoval was mostly circumspect at a June 7 meeting. One of the commissioners, Michel Peter Florio, says he would have voted for such a project in the past, but San Bruno and the Japanese nuclear disaster has pushed him to the other side.

Advocates says the project is needed to help satisfy growing energy needs, those needs outweigh environmental concerns and that safety is not a problem. Opponents say there are risks of gas migration into groundwater and deadly leaks into the atmosphere, California already has mammoth storage capacity and that you can’t mitigate the threat of earthquake or other catastrophic threats to the public.

The gas company has courted community support, entering mineral rights agreements with 556 property owners and pledging money for parks, traffic control, youth programs and neighborhood improvement projects. The company also promised millions in tax revenues, and construction and operations jobs.

As of 2008, around 88% of the Western Region’s natural gas storage capacity was in California’s 12 underground natural gas storage sites, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Seven of the sites are owned by the state’s two biggest distributors, Southern California Gas Company and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and are mostly used as a balancing system for pipelines with gas from Canada and the Southwest. The five independent storage facilities are mainly depositories for gas produced within the state, although they are connected to the Southern California Gas Company and/or Pacific Gas and Electric Company systems.

Southern California Gas has 134 billion cubic feet of capacity at four locations: Playa del Rey, Goleta, Honor Rancho and Aliso Canyon. PG&E’s three locations are: McDonald Island near Stockton, Pleasant Creek near Woodland and Los Medanos near Concord.

The Environmental Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas in 2007 alleging it regularly overinjected gas from 1956 to the mid-80s into its Playa del Rey storage facility one mile beneath Los Angeles, pushing gas that carried carcinogenic benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene into nearby groundwater, and that the facility still leaks gas. The suit wants the company to stop.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Underground Natural Gas Storage (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

California Energy Hub (Southern California Gas Co.)

Gas Project Worries Regulators (by Loretta Kalb, Sacramento Bee)

CPUC Safety Concerns Delay Gas Storage Project (California Current)

Natural Gas and California (California Public Utilities Commission)

Enviros Say SoCal Gas Pollutes L.A. Water (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News)

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