Despite complaints, judge says Aliso Canyon natural gas facility can reopen

A state appeals court judge ruled Saturday that Southern California Gas Co. can resume operations at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, the source of the biggest methane leak in the country’s history.

On Friday, L.A. County had been granted a temporary restraining order that would have halted the reopening. But a judge ordered the stay lifted on Saturday after the gas company filed a motion opposing the stay.

Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for Southern California Gas, said the Aliso Canyon facility has been deemed safe to operate by state regulators and the courts. He said the agency has made extensive upgrades to its infrastructure, technology and safety practices.

“Today’s decision by the Court of Appeals is the right one,” he said in a statement emailed to The Times. “Over the last 18 months, Aliso Canyon has undergone what state regulators have called the most comprehensive safety review in the country. We have met — and in many cases, exceeded — the rigorous requirements of the state's safety review.”

In 2015, a ruptured well at the Aliso Canyon facility, near Porter Ranch, began spewing tons of gas and eventually became the nation’s biggest-ever methane gas leak. It took four months to fix the rupture.

Families who lived nearby complained of health issues, including nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, and thousands evacuated their homes as a safety precaution.

Earlier this month, state officials had announced that the facility could resume natural gas injections at a reduced capacity. Officials said that more than half of the wells had been taken out of operation and that the facility would operate at 28% of its capacity.

Officials from the California Energy Commission also said they were prepared to work to shut down the field within 10 years.

Some L.A. leaders objected to the reopening all together, saying it introduced unnecessary risk to the community.

To try to stop operations from resuming, L.A. County filed suit against state regulators and the gas company alleging that they did not conduct required safety and environmental studies or turn over public documents before reopening the facility.

“The reopening of the facility is highly troubling and irresponsible,” the complaint reads. “This is a regulator rushing to approve reopening without completing necessary investigations and risking public health.”

Now, with the judge’s most recent action on Saturday, Southern California Gas Co. can continue to prepare to inject natural gas again at the facility.

Gilbride said the agency had begun the preparation process but did not yet have an exact timeline for when operations would restart.

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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