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Gas Company Wants to Use Leaky Porter Ranch Site Before All the Wells Are Tested

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Efforts will focus on getting a handful of the best gas wells back online while the others are inspected

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

The fallout resulting from the biggest methane leak in US history is showing no sign of slowing. Months after Southern California Gas Company successfully plugged a leaking well that spewed 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, the Aliso Canyon storage facility sits closed. No gas is being pumped out or in until its wells pass a strict barrage of mandated tests.

After the cataclysmic gas leak that occurred there months ago, the state is taking few chances with the gas storage site. They want to keep the entire Aliso Canyon storage facility closed until each and every well can be inspected for leaks and verified as safe. This thorough examination may be the only way to get a clear picture of the storage site's safety, since the overall condition of the Aliso Canyon storage site is questionable. A large portion of the wells are over 50 years old, some up to 70 years old, and SoCal Gas Company by their own admission has struggled with pipe corrosion in the past.

The inspection process itself is quite time-consuming as each of the 115 wells is subject to several phases of inspection before they can be put back online. If a well passes preliminary tests, it moves to a more thorough, expensive, and lengthy testing process before it is ready for operation. In total, it can take several months to complete a full inspection on each well.

But news of impending summer gas shortages and the resulting risk of blackouts added more urgency into getting Aliso Canyon back online. The gas storage site acts as an important energy backup when the electricity grid gets overtaxed in the summer months. Those gas shortages could lead to "a distinct possibility of electricity service interruptions" according to a joint report from the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, the LADWP, and the California Independent System Operator.

According to the LA Times, SoCal Gas wants to get a jump on things by opening up its Aliso Canyon facility in a piecemeal fashion. Rather than wait until all 115 gas wells have passed preliminary inspections to continue with additional testing, the company plans to focus efforts on fully testing a handful of wells that have the best chance of passing inspection. The gas company has its eyes on at least five wells that it believes could keep the storage facility operating while the rest of the wells are tested; it's hoping to start injecting natural gas using those wells as soon as the "late summer." Those five wells have gone through several phases of testing, but have yet to receive clearance from the state to commence operation.

Not everyone is quick to trust the gas company, however. Governor Jerry Brown's office will be monitoring the situation closely. Energy officials have told the Governor they do not plan on easing inspections in order to speed the process along. The Environmental Defense Fund wants to take a closer look at the gas company's plans, and the consumer rights group Food and Water Watch claims officials warning of blackouts are "exaggerating some numbers" to benefit the gas company.

Bret Lane, SoCal Gas chief operating officer tells the LA Times that the wells "ain't coming back online until I'm satisfied we've done all the assessments we need to do."