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Gas utility resumes injections at Aliso Canyon despite opposition from county, residents

Southern California Gas Co. announced Monday it had resumed injections at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, less than two days after an appeals court lifted a temporary ban on operations.

“SoCalGas must begin injections to comply with the [state’s] directive to maintain sufficient natural gas inventories at Aliso Canyon to support the reliability of the region’s natural gas and electricity systems,” the company wrote in a statement sent to Porter Ranch residents.

The Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in the northwestern San Fernando Valley was the site of the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history, spewing more than 100,000 tons of the greenhouse gas starting in October 2015. Roughly 8,000 families living near the area evacuated, with many complaining of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds.

The leak, which took four months to cap, prompted outrage among residents and local government officials and dozens of lawsuits. It also spawned state legislation requiring regulators to conduct a comprehensive safety review, including an analysis of the root cause of the leak and plans for addressing the risks of failure, and to study the feasibility of phasing out use of the facility in the long term.

Deirdre Bolona, who lives just south of the gas field, called the decision to resume injections until the safety review had been satisfactorily completed “irresponsible.”

“We are ripe for another earthquake,” Bolona said, referring to the 1971 earthquake in which a short segment of the Santa Susana fault ruptured slightly. “When the wells get sheared off, my house will be one of the ones that doesn’t make it.”

The news Monday came amid ongoing legal wrangling between L.A. County and state regulators and the gas company over what the county alleges was a failure to conduct legally required safety and environmental analyses before reopening the facility, and to turn over related public records.

On July 19, regulators at the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission announced that Aliso Canyon was safe to reopen, though they said it would operate at a reduced capacity of 28%, “out of an abundance of caution.”

Two days later, attorneys for L.A. County amended their lawsuit, initially filed in March, to include a request for an immediate stay of that decision. They also submitted testimony from a former Southern California Gas Co. engineer who warned of the risk posed by the Santa Susana fault line running underneath the gas wells.

On Friday, a trial court judge denied the county’s request, only to be reversed on appeal a few hours later. The stay was overturned a day later, and another appeal filed on Monday failed.

Southern California Gas Co. posted a note Monday afternoon on a company website about the resumption of operations. Chris Gilbride, a company spokesman, confirmed in an email that gas injections had begun on a limited basis.

Scott Kuhn, deputy county counsel, said the county was very disappointed the appeals court did not issue a stay, but noted that the courts have yet to rule on the county’s broader request to order state regulators to complete the safety and environmental analyses before continuing injections.

"We hope that some court will get to the merits and when they do get to merits, they will see that further study of the seismic risk and the environmental risk is necessary before [the utility] can proceed with business as usual," Kuhn said.

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina


UPDATES:

6:10 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction.

This article was originally published at 5:05 p.m.

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