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The Terrible Porter Ranch Leak Could Mean Gas Shortages This Summer

The leak's been plugged, but it could still cause problems across Los Angeles

Aerial photo of the blown out well in Porter Ranch, 2015. Earthworks

When an aging well at a natural gas field near the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Porter Ranch sprung a leak in October and then continued leaking for about four months after, the major focus was on getting it plugged. But once that happened came all the news that the effects of the leak might continue long after it was stopped. One way or another, the leak could be responsible for gas shortages during peak use times, like summer, which could translate into power failures.

The Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility measures 3,600 acres and is the company's biggest storage field. It usually holds 60 percent of their entire supply of gas, says KPCC. But since the leak was plugged, the California Public Utilities Commission has forced the gas company to cut back on its available gas reserves. Instead of storing 86 billion cubic feet of gas, it's now holding just 15 billion.

Under current plans, if the gas supply is dangerously low, "electrical power plants would be among the first to be cut off to spare residential and small business customers." This is a possibility for over a dozen providers in the LA area, including the LADWP, and could potentially trigger a domino effect of issues: "Plant shutdowns — if not carefully planned on a regional basis — could put the electrical grid at risk of a cascading blackout."

The good news is, while residential and small business customers would likely lose power in a situation like this, their gas would still be on, because it would be too much hassle for the gas company to shut off small-time customers and then come around and relight everyone's pilot lights.

Luckily, state regulators and major utilities are working together on a plan to keep things from getting too bad. The plan, which would go into effect in a shortage, involves figuring out how to share the gas that's left in the storage field among the 18 area power plants that are gas powered and reduce the risk of power plant shutdowns. A public hearing on the plan is expected sometime next month.