After two months and tons and tons of methane released into the air, the Southern California Gas Company has only recently pinpointed the location of the disastrous leak at their Aliso Canyon facility near the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch. (Still haven't stopped it though; that'll take a few more months.) Now the LA Daily News has uncovered a document that the gas company filed with a state regulatory board in November 2014 showing that they knew that, with regards to a leak or similarly hazardous situation, it was probably a matter of when, not if. In the filing, the company explains that its pipes had been having issues with corrosion and were only getting worse. The gas company voiced concern about its system for inspections, and also proposed a rate hike to help fund more proactive inspections.
"Without a new inspection plan, SoCalGas and customers could experience major failures and service interruptions from potential hazards that currently remain undetected," the company's Director of Storage Operations wrote in the report for the California Public Utilities Commission. The document explains how the company "primarily reacted to leaks once they were detected but didn't actively search for corroded pipes on a regular basis."
The document goes on to describe a rising tide of issues at the company's 229 wells throughout Southern California, starting with three comprehensive repairs on wells in 2008 (due to "structural integrity issues"), nine similar well repairs in 2013, and 36 overall incidents where wells had to undergo major refurbishing. An additional 15 wells "were found to have casing corrosion or mechanical damage," says the Daily News. At least three of the examples given in the document are from the Aliso Canyon storage facility: in 2008, workers following up on the regular battery of tests found "casing corrosion as deep as 1,050 feet." In 2013, two Aliso Canyon wells were discovered to be leaking below ground. Plus, half of all the gas company's wells are more than 57 years old and 52 of them are more than 70 years old. An expert tells the LADN that wells start to deteriorate after 40.
Despite all that information, one state official from the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources makes it clear to the DN that it doesn't look like the gas company broke any laws. The rulebooks state that companies have to do "a pressure test of the well casing tubing every five years, and a mechanical integrity test every two years," so as long as the gas company did those things, they're following the law. A Southern California Gas Company spokeswoman says that the company is "in compliance with relevant regulations which are set up to ensure the public safety." But, wonders an expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, "You have an antiquated regulatory program, and you have a utility saying they have documented increased corrosion. How much individual responsibility do these utilities need to apply to their operations?"
The Southern California Gas Company have submitted a proposal to regulators to increase customer rates to help fund a less reactive approach to inspections and repairs on old wells—the increase would last six years and raise $30 million. The proposal is still awaiting approval by state regulators, but the gas company expects a decision in early 2016.
Meanwhile, the leak rages on at the Aliso Canyon facility, where it's pushed 2,500 families to relocate and sent 1,200 tons of methane into the air every single day. The chemical added to the naturally odorless methane to give it a smell (rotten eggs), which makes leaks easier to find, has also given residents headaches and nausea.
· SoCalGas knew of corrosion at Porter Ranch gas facility, doc shows [LADN]
· An Insane Amount of Natural Gas is Leaking Into the Valley's Porter Ranch Neighborhood [Curbed LA]
· New Aerial Video Shows the Terrifying Hugeness of the Porter Ranch Gas Leak [Curbed LA]