Aliso Canyon’s Fate – and Ours – Hangs in the Balance

by Amy Knight, SanDiego350

(Originally published in the San Diego Free Press)

Considered one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history, the record-setting release of methane from SoCal Gas’s Aliso Canyon in October 2015 had both long-term climate altering consequences for the world and immediate health consequences for the people of the greater Los Angeles area. The leak went on for 112 days, emitted 65 billion cubic feet of this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, and prompted the evacuation of more than 6,800 households.

Aliso Canyon Leak

Infrared picture of Aliso Canyon gas leak. Photo courtesy of EDF.

Today, the California public can make their voice heard, can be part of choosing the path we will go down from here. SanDiego350 calls on you to phone Senator Ben Hueso (619-409-7690) and ask him to bring SB 57 up for vote in the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communication Committee – and to vote yes on it. The bill prohibits SoCal Gas from injecting any more natural gas into Aliso Canyon until a root cause analysis of the leak is determined. It also calls on the CPUC to finalize by 12/31/2017 its study that will investigate the feasibility of closing the Aliso Canyon facility.

BACKGROUND

Methane gas is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, with a global warming potential (GWP) 72 times that of carbon dioxide over its 20 year lifespan in the atmosphere. In addition to accelerating climate change, exposure to methane can induce headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Widespread accounts of these ailments were reported in the Porter Ranch area, which is adjacent to the Aliso Canyon facility, and led to the leak’s discovery. Thousands of local residents eventually had to move to temporary housing.

LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE

In response to the Aliso Canyon leak, Senate Bill (SB) 887 was signed into law on September 26, 2016. The bill acknowledges the importance of public transparency of the risks and regulations involved in gas storage, and calls for numerous safety measures at the Aliso Canyon site. In conjunction with SB 887, SB 888 was signed, establishing the Office of Emergency Services as the lead agency to handle future emergency responses. This bill also creates an account funded by regulatory penalties to ensure that greenhouse gas emission reductions are being made to offset the methane released by the leak.

CURRENT SITUATION

State regulators say that 34 of the remaining 114 wells at Aliso Canyon have passed pressure tests and can resume operation. SoCal Gas, which has a year to either permanently plug or repair the remaining 80 wells, argues that operation at full capacity of 83 billion cubic feet is essential to California’s energy security.

Despite SoCal Gas’s predictions, instances of energy shortfalls have failed to materialize. After reviewing energy market demands, state utility regulators see things differently than the utility does. Regulators currently plan to restrict Aliso Canyon’s capacity to 29 billion cubic feet, a 66 percent reduction from SoCal Gas’s proposal.

HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE

Some of the natural gas stored in Aliso Canyon has been used in the past to fuel power plants during periods of high electricity demand, but another solution that’s recently become available is lithium-ion batteries. One result of the Aliso Canyon leak is that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) directed Southern California Edison to install enough batteries to power 15,000 homes. These batteries at the Mira Loma facility are connected to the grid; they charge up when power demand is low and give back when it’s high, thus mitigating the need to bring on natural gas-fired power stations. The result is a zero emissions method of addressing peak power demand. And in addition to the Mira Loma battery storage facility, the CPUC, the California Energy Commission, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have proposed 31 more mitigation measures that will help eliminate the need for Aliso Canyon.

CALL TO ACTION

It’s at this juncture that the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the issue. The public can push for a vote in the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communication Committee on SB 57. As mentioned above, the bill requires Aliso Canyon to remain closed until the root cause of the methane leak is determined. In addition, the bill would require, as a matter of official urgency, that the CPUC’s study of whether Aliso Canyon should continue to be used at all be completed by 12/13/17.

The response from the California public and our influence on political decision makers has the potential to redefine our future. Aliso Canyon’s role can be supplanted by the battery technology and the other proposed methods, thereby reducing or eliminating the potential for another disastrous leak. Decisions made in Sacramento in the next week or two will decide which course we go down: do we transition to new, clean technology, or do we continue to rely on the methods of the past, proven contributors to environmental degradation and damage?

If you’d like to help make a difference, please call Senator Ben Hueso’s office at (619) 409-7690 to tell him to 1) schedule SB 57 for a hearing in the Energy, Utilities, and Communication Committee as soon as possible and 2) vote YES on SB 57.

 

Amy Knight graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Psychology, then taught high school for 3 years. Now she is following her passion to educate environmental leaders of the next generation by attending Scripps Institute of Oceanography and getting her degree in Climate Science and Policy.

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