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article imageSoCalGas admits it removed safety valve on leaking well

By Karen Graham     Jan 8, 2016 in Environment
Los Angeles - Newly discovered information is shedding a different light on the massive methane gas leak in Southern California's Porter Ranch community. First discovered on October 23, 2015, the full implications of the leak were not known until weeks later.
A lot of new information has surfaced since Southern California Gas Company's (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon underground storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles started leaking back in the latter part of October last year.
On January 6, according to Digital Journal, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, ordering the mobilization of all state agencies to respond to the growing crisis, described as the largest natural gas leak on record and a massive environmental disaster.
The upscale community of Porter Ranch in better times.
The upscale community of Porter Ranch in better times.
Ted Mackel
Since that time, it has been learned the storage well was 90 percent full, heading into the winter months, and aging infrastructure is most likely going to be the culprit, according to Fellon-McCord Energy Services.
However much an aging infrastructure may be at fault in the gas leak, there are several other important issues that have come to light. Global News Wire is reporting that Patricia Oliver with the R. Rex Parris Law Firm says, “Newly uncovered information shows that Southern California Gas Company admitted five years ago it operated numerous leaking wells in Aliso Canyon, received a ratepayer increase to upgrade these wells-and yet deliberately failed to replace safety valves on its gas injection wells."
Oliver added, “The result of SoCalGas’s indifference to public safety is the massive gas well failure that forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents from their homes.”
Site of the gas leak.
Site of the gas leak.
CBS Los Angeles
It appears that at a Dec. 29, 2015 meeting with the Porter Ranch Community Advisory Committee, SoCalGas admitted that the new and replacement wells they drill do not have safety valves. This admission comes five years after SoCalGas asked for and received regulatory permission to increase rates to replace the many leaking valves at the Aliso Canyon storage field.
There are over 90 such gas-injection wells in the Aliso Canyon area, one of the largest storage facilities in the nation. "Despite the ratepayer increase and its annual profits of nearly $100 million, SoCalGas ‘slow-walked’ the replacement of valves. SoCalGas proposed in 2010 an annual cost of $898,000 per year to replace five percent of its leaking valves each year, a job they said would take 20 years to complete.
According to the LA Weekly, SoCalGas distributes gas from the Aliso Canyon facility to 14 power plants and 21 million customers. Anneliese Anderle was a field engineer for the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermic Resources, which regulates oil drilling before she retired in 2014. She told the LA Weekly the company is a first-rate operation, with everything "by-the-book."
"They have a beautiful facility," Anderle says. "It's gleaming. They have great roads and well-marked pipelines. Everything's painted. But just below the surface, it's junk." And when Anderle first heard the news of the gas leak, she pulled up company records that date back to when the well was first drilled in 1953, on the state's website.
She immediately zeroed in on something called a sub-surface safety valve, located 8,451 feet underground. Anderle figured that if the valve was working properly, the company would have shut the well down. She wondered what was wrong.
Then, on December 15, LA Weekly interviewed SoCalGas executive Rodger Schwecke, and when he was asked about the safety valve, he said it wasn't damaged because it actually wasn't there. "We removed that valve in 1979," he said.
Why the valve was removed is important to the discussion, but why it wasn't replaced is critical to what has happened to the residents of Porter Ranch. The admission by SoCalGas that the safety valve was removed, but not replaced has prompted an amended class action lawsuit already filed in connection with the massive gas leak.
In related news, on Friday, regional Public Affairs Manager Mike Mizrahi, speaking on behalf of SoCalGas, told the BBC in an interview that he wouldn't classify the Aliso Canyon gas leak as an environmental catastrophe, despite information to the contrary issued by the California Environmental Protection Agency.
In referring to what he calls the "Aliso Canyon storage incident," Mizrahi said that while gasses are still being released into the atmosphere, they weren't a threat to public health. It makes one wonder why the company filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday showing SoCalGas had already spent over $50 million on costs related to the gas leak.
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