News Article | January 8, 2016
Last fall, a 7-inch injection well pipe ruptured 500 feet below the surface of Los Angeles, after ferrying natural gas for six decades. The resulting methane leak is now being called one of the largest environmental disasters since the BP oil spill, has pushed thousands of people out of their homes, and has quickly become the single biggest contributor to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in California. But it's not the first time this well sprang a leak—and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), which owns and operates the well, knew it. Over the past three months, engineers have had a terrifically difficult time plugging the leak. Normally in the case of a methane leak, a column of fluid would be pumped down into the well, to stem its tide. But with this particular well, that hasn’t been working. Instead, workers must drill down to the base of the well, 8,000 feet underground, creating a relief well to relieve the incredibly high pressure of the leak. Only then can the leak be repaired safely. So who’s to blame for a leak that cannot be stopped? Aging natural gas equipment may have contributed. According to documents filed with the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, this particular well, referred to as Standard Sesnon 25, was originally drilled in 1953, and showed signs of leakage 24 years ago, in 1992. Inspectors reported that they could hear the leak through borehole microphones. Gene Nelson, a professor of physical science at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California who has seen the document, said that he found it “appalling that SoCalGas did not identify this as a well to shut off,” after receiving this feedback. There have been other problems documented at this facility before. And in 2014, inspectors at the wells documented corrosion and negative integrity trends. In 2013, SoCalGas applied for and received money to do upgrades on equipment like safety valves—money that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says should have been used to prevent a leak like this. The regulatory decision filing shows that SoCalGas was granted $898,000 per year (in addition to the regular fund of about $3 million per year for repairs) to replace 5 percent of its safety valves at Aliso Canyon. According to EDF, these extra funds weren’t used as they should have been—to prevent a leak of this magnitude. In 2014, written testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission by SoCalGas Director of Storage Operations Phillip Baker documented corrosion and negative integrity trends in the aging pipeline. “Without a new inspection plan, SoCalGas and customers could experience major failures and service interruptions from potential hazards that currently remain undetected,” he wrote. The filing also noted that as of 2014, half of the company’s 229 storage wells were over 57 years old, and 52 wells were more than 70 years old. “The company should be holding themselves to highest standard of care,” said Tim O’Connor, Director of California oil and gas for EDF, adding that SoCal should have had emergency plans in place to prevent long-term leaks from occurring. “This leak is a symptom of a larger issue—aging oil and gas infrastructure. We just don’t have a system to properly deal with storage leaks yet.” Other safety issues have been pointed out recently, too. Earlier this month, The LA Times reported that attorneys representing some of the 1,000 residents suing SoCalGas over the leak claim the company failed to replace an important safety valve that was removed in 1979—a valve that could have stopped the current leak in its tracks. The plaintiffs also allege that the company again identified leaks at the site five years ago, but never implemented plans to fix them. When pressed about the age of the pipes and the safety history of the well, a spokesperson for Sempra Utilities, the company that owns SoCalGas, said that the company performs daily well checks, and that this well had passed its last inspection: Now, three months after the pipe first burst,, Gov. Jerry Brown has proclaimed a state of emergency in California. The declaration grants the state more powers to oversee the response, gives more authority to health officials, forces the utility to maximize its gas withdrawals, and ramps up safety inspections at the Aliso Canyon Underground Storage Facility in Porter Ranch—a neighborhood of Los Angeles where over 100,000 pounds of methane are now being pumped into California’s air every hour. The proclamation will likely allow more funds to be diverted to assist in cleanup efforts, and creates an independent panel to assess what went wrong with the leak and to assess its impact on human health. Dennis Arriola, president and CEO of the Southern California Gas Company, which owns the Aliso facility, issued a statement saying that the company “has been communicating with the Governor’s Office and other state agencies from the outset….[and] reaffirms our prior commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of the actual amount of natural gas released from the leak.” Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University and an expert in the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, called the Porter Ranch leak “spectacularly large,” adding that it is likely adding 5 percent to the total amount of methane leaked by the entire US oil and gas industry right now. (Natural gas consists primarily of methane, which constantly leaks, in much smaller amounts, from oil and gas fields around the nation.) What’s more, says Howarth, the methane is incredibly sticky—meaning, it’s going to stay in the atmosphere. “Once the methane is in the air, it will be there for 10-plus years until it is chemically converted to carbon dioxide and methane,” said Howarth. “ We cannot do anything about that to speed its loss up. And during those 10-plus years, it is more than 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.” In other words, the methane coming out of this leak is catastrophically worse for the climate than the pollution we pump into the atmosphere from cars and planes and trains every day. So far, some 2,300 homes have voluntarily evacuated and several schools have been closed, with many residents complaining of headaches and nosebleeds from the foul-smelling chemical additives. These include radon, hydrogen sulfide, and an odorant called mercaptan, which is added to the gas both before and after it leaves the storage field. The well, which funnels natural gas to 22 million customers in the Los Angeles Basin, is expected to take another three months to plug. O’Connor says that the disaster is a telling sign about the viability of natural gas in a country of aging infrastructure. “We need to take a hard look at whether we can prevent these types of leaks,” he said, adding that smaller methane leaks at oil and gas facilities happen frequently. “These problems fly below the radar until catastrophes happen—and a catastrophe has just happened.”
News Article | November 18, 2016
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) will have the largest team for the fourth year in a row at United Way's HomeWalk, an event that raises money and awareness to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. Organizers expect a sea of SoCalGas blue...
News Article | February 14, 2017
The US Department of Energy has approved $1.2 million in federal funding for the development of a new pilot hydrothermal wastewater processing project by a consortium that includes Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), according to a new press release from SoCalGas. In order to recover the federal funds, the pilot project will have to share a minimum of 50% of the costs. The lead in the consortium is the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation. The project will utilize hydrothermal processing technology to convert wastewater solids to fuels — primarily into biocrude and methane, that is. So, rather than simply releasing human wastes into the environment following treatment, the project aims to use these wastes as feedstock for the production of biocrude and methane — fuels with a great deal of utilitarian value. The pilot plant where this will be taking place will be located at a municipal wastewater treatment facility near Oakland, California. The press release provides a bit more: “SoCalGas will help oversee the project’s design and assist in obtaining state and federal regulatory approvals and incentives. The new technology converts waste solids from a wastewater treatment plant into biocrude and methane gas using water, heat and pressure. The biocrude oil replaces fossil oil, providing green fuels with nearly zero net new carbon emissions. The methane gas can be used in the same ways as fossil natural gas.” The director of business strategy and advanced technology at SoCalGas, Jeff Reed, commented: “SoCalGas and its partners have demonstrated that this process can very effectively convert wastewater solids into renewable natural gas, using existing infrastructure, to help replace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This new technology could have an enormous impact on energy and waste. Converting the wastewater solids produced by treatment plants in the US with hydrothermal processing could produce about 128 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year and save treatment utilities $2.2 billion in solids disposal costs. A city of one million people could produce more than 600 million cubic feet of natural gas per year, save more than $7 million per year in disposal costs, and power nearly 7,000 vehicles per day.” As alluded to above, the pilot project will be based out of a municipal wastewater treatment facility near Oakland — more specifically, out of the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District. It’s a very interesting sounding pilot program, in my opinion. We’ll keep you posted as more news becomes available. Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | February 3, 2016
In October, residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood — an upscale grouping of houses in the hills just north of Los Angeles, California — complained of what they thought was a natural gas leak from a home in the area. Upon investigating, Southern California Gas Company found that, in actuality, the smell was coming from a much, much worse source — the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility. Aliso is a former oil production field that was tapped out in the 70s, and after the old oil wells were capped, was converted into an underground storage reservoir that has the capacity to store roughly 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas, which is a large chunk of the state’s overall natural gas storage capacity. The field is currently the second-largest natural gas storage facility in the US. There are a handful of types of underground storage facilities, which the US Energy Information Administration has beautifully illustrated: Of all the natural gas storage facilities used, the type of storage at the Aliso field is one of the least stable, as it has the aforementioned retired oil wells compromising the surface integrity of the reservoir. To make matters worse, those wells were capped using technology from the 70s, which is far inferior to how wells are capped today. Which brings us to the leak…. On October 23rd of 2015 — over 3 months ago — a leak was discovered at one of the 115 natural gas injection/withdrawal wells (where they fill up the reservoir or pull gas out) in the Aliso field, and all efforts by the Southern California Gas Company to cap the well and stop the leak have failed. Utility Dive shares a piece of unique insight into just how much natural gas is leaking out, stating that “the ongoing release of what initially was 25% of California’s monthly methane emissions and could be as much as 15% of the hourly greenhouse gas emissions from the US natural gas industry.” In other words, this is a massive leak from the second-largest natural gas storage facility in the US that has been gushing out natural gas as fast as it can… for more than 3 months. Day and night. This thing is massive, and I would bet dollars to donuts that residents had no idea it was there. I live a short 45 minutes away and had absolutely no idea, though that’s not terribly surprising. To put the leak into context, SoCalGas put out the infographic below to show us that the leak is “only” 10% of the total CO2-equivalent emissions of dairies, or “just” 25% of the CO2-equivalent emissions from landfills (!!), or 2% of the total CO2-equivalent emissions from electricity generation. I’m not sure who approved the graphic on the SoCalGas side, but it does do a great job of illustrating just how disastrous this single incident is. On February 2nd, 2016, the California attorney general filed a suit against the Southern California Gas Company over the leak, Reuters reports. This latest suit is just one of dozens filed since the leak was discovered. It claims the utility violated state health and safety laws by failing to contain the leak and even in failing to report the leak in a timely manner. Initial reports found that SoCalGas found the leak on October 23rd, but didn’t report it until the 28th of October. The suit also seeks damages related to the environmental impact of the estimated 80,000 metric tons of methane released since the leak was discovered. Reuters found that the leak was “the largest such leak ever in California, at its height it accounted for a fourth of all methane emissions statewide.” Many lawsuits have been filed and this most recent suit pulls together a few earlier efforts filed by the city and county of Los Angeles and seeks an expedited resolution to the pressing issue at hand as well as financial damages. Several attempts have been made to seal the leak, but all efforts to date have failed. After declaring a state of emergency, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) is fully engaged and driving closure once and for all. The OES website shares that a fix might be just around the corner (finally): “On Jan. 25, the Southern California Gas Company announced that operations have entered the fifth and final phase to cap the leaking well at Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. According to SoCalGas, the completion date is still anticipated to be in late February. The relief well has reached a depth of 8,530 feet and is nearing an intercept with the leaking well. Once drilling reaches the leaking well’s base, crews will transition from drilling operations to pumping heavy fluids, cement and drilling mud into the target well to stop the flow of gas. Enough cement will be inserted to displace the fluids/mud and leave an intial seal of cement that will effectively cut off the leaking well.” SoCalGas has taken as much gas out of the reservoir as it can while still maintaining enough reserve to supply area customers. Even crazier is the fact that all this gas is being stored in what is apparently a rather fragile container… in earthquake country. Let’s just hope this relief well does indeed allow the leaking well to be sealed off. 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News Article | February 16, 2017
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 16, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) today announced that it will upgrade or replace 50 to 60 pipeline valves in 2017 to further enhance the safety of its system. The upgraded valves will feature the latest technology that allow operators...
News Article | December 8, 2016
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 8, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today issued home heating safety tips and advice on how to keep natural gas bills low this winter. In Southern California, the heating season typically begins in November and can last through March. During...
News Article | November 1, 2016
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today requested regulatory approval to resume injection operations through approved wells at its Aliso Canyon storage facility. In support of this request, SoCalGas submitted a detailed status report on all...
News Article | January 11, 2016
"California governor’s state-of-emergency declaration includes requirement that gas utility pay to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane." "California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered Southern California Gas Co. to pay for a mitigation program to offset damage to the world's climate from a massive methane leak at an underground natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles. The directive was part of Brown's Jan. 6 declaration of a state of emergency. The ongoing leak has caused more than 2,300 people to evacuate their homes and forced school closures in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of northwest Los Angeles. Brown's proclamation also directed state agencies to protect public health and safety, oversee efforts to stop the 12-week-old leak and ensure that SoCal Gas is held accountable for costs and any violations. "The California Air Resources Board, in consultation with appropriate state agencies, shall develop a program to fully mitigate the leak's emissions of methane by March 31, 2016," the governor ordered. The program "shall be funded by the Southern California Gas Company, be limited to projects in California, and prioritize projects that reduce short-lived climate pollutants," Brown said in the proclamation."
News Article | November 30, 2016
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today announced a new conservation notification program designed to reduce consumers' natural gas use to lower the risk of possible natural gas and electricity shortages this winter. Beginning December 1,...
News Article | October 28, 2016
Demonstration of the commercial stone conveyor pizza oven from Italy that has unseated impingement ovens in U.S. is available for verified chefs and operators for a limited time. RSVP www.italforniusa.com/test-oven or call (424)364-0075 The next event will be hosted March 29, 2016, at the Southern California Gas Company's Energy Resource Center, located at 9240 Firestone Blvd., Downey, CA 90241.