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PUC Asked to Study Need for Gas Pipelines

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

After being forced to cut natural gas supplies to several municipal and industrial customers for six weeks this summer, Southern California Gas Co. has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to look into whether California requires new gas pipelines to meet its needs.

SoCal Gas provided only 87% of the gas it normally provides to Southern California Edison, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and seven other utilities between Aug. 16 and Sept. 30, according to Frederick E. John, senior vice president of gas company. John said the company also expects to curtail gas supplies in the upcoming winter months.

John was among the 30 representatives of utilities, state agencies, consumer groups and pipeline companies who testified before the PUC and an administrative law judge at a hearing Monday in Los Angeles. The hearing continues through Friday.

John said an increased demand for gas during the hot summer months prevented stockpiling gas for winter use. In fact, while SoCal Gas’ underground storage fields can hold 112 billion cubic feet of gas, only 70 billion cubic feet are in storage, John said.

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In January, because of persistent cold weather, SoCal Gas temporarily halted gas supplies to 800 industrial and commercial users who had other energy sources available, primarily fuel oil. The unusually cold weather created a demand for gas that the utility was unable to meet. The January reductions were the first such cutoffs since 1979.

Representatives of pipeline companies said they are ready and willing to build new pipelines to provide additional gas to California. Abundant supplies of natural gas are available from Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Canada, but pipelines to transport the gas to California are limited, the representatives said. Currently, only three pipelines carry all of California’s natural gas to the state border, said Richard Dobson, assistant utilities engineer for the PUC.

“The commission wants to find out how the (pipeline) capacity is being used,” said Dobson. After a review, he said the PUC will determine whether new pipelines are needed.

Oil company representatives, including one from Chevron USA, said they need more low-cost natural gas to assist in the recovery of oil from wells in Kern County. In a process called enhanced oil recovery, steam is injected into older oil wells to heat up the oil and permit it to flow more easily to the surface. Oil companies need steady and substantial supplies of natural gas to generate the steam.

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Charles Imbrecht, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said the commission would like the PUC to allow new gas pipelines to bring more low-cost, clean-burning natural gas to California.

When natural gas supplies are limited, many utilities are forced to burn more polluting fuel oil in their power plants.


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