California Public Utility Commission Votes to Increase Gas Storage at SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Facility

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today approved a controversial oil and gas industry-backed proposal to increase the gas storage capacity at SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, the home of the worst natural gas blow out in U.S. history.

The Commissioners voted to increase the facility’s capacity to 60 percent allowable capacity, despite 62 public comments from public health advocates, residents and environmental activists urging the commission to shut the facility down.

In a statement, the CPUC claimed they acted to ensure sufficient natural gas supplies for gas and electric customers in the Los Angeles Basin this winter “to maintain energy reliability.”

In approving the proposal of assigned Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves by a vote of 4-0, the CPUC set the amount of working gas storage capacity in the field to an interim level of 41 billion cubic feet (Bcf) “to ensure SoCalGas meets minimum reliability needs for the region, versus a proposal that would have set the capacity to 68.6 Bcf, the maximum amount allowed by the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM),” the CPUC explained.

“Our Decision today helps ensure energy reliability for the Los Angeles Basin this winter in a safe and reliable manner,” said Commissioner Guzman Aceves. “We continue to move forward on planning how to reduce or eliminate the use of Aliso Canyon, and to ultimately reduce our reliance entirely on such natural gas infrastructure as we transition to a clean energy economy.”

The proposal voted on is available here.

Food and Water Watch and other opponents of the increase condemned the decision to increase the storage capacity, noting that allowing the increase is “not only dangerous,” but is “needless.”

“The Public Utilities Commission voted today in favor of fossil fuel interests, not the well-being of California ratepayers,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Allowing any increase in storage capacity at SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon facility is not only dangerous, it is needless. SoCalGas and its shareholders are the only ones who profit from this disastrous glut of natural gas in the backyard of their ratepayers.”

“Governor Newsom has instituted setbacks to protect frontline communities from oil and gas drilling. But where is the protection for communities in the shadow of gas infrastructure like Aliso Canyon? Governor Newsom has made it clear that Aliso Canyon should be shut down. Now he must follow his mandate with action and ensure the CPUC closes this facility once and for all,” Nagy concluded.

Members of environmental advocacy organizations including Food & Water Watch, Save Porter Ranch, Aliso Moms Alliance, Sunrise Movement Los Angeles, Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles, along with public health professionals and community health advocates and Impacted San Fernando Valley community members, urged the CPUC to vote against the proposal during the public comment period.

On the other hand, Indicated Shippers, a group of oil companies including California Resources Corporation, Chevron, Phillips 66 and Tesoro, were among those calling for the increase.

Aliso Canyon, located in the Santa Susana Mountains near Porter Ranch in Los Angeles, was the site of the worst gas blowout in U.S. history starting in October 2015. The blowout resulted in the displacement of thousands of residents of Porter Ranch and nearby communities and an alarming incidence of nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and cancer suffered by residents.

The facility is owned by SoCalGas, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy and a major contributor to the campaigns of California legislators, governors and other politicians, as well as to some “environmental” groups that support the energy company’s projects.

In 2019, Governor Newsom directed the CPUC to expedite the closure of Aliso Canyon. In the interim, the L.A. City Council and the L.A. Board of Supervisors have also voted in favor of shutting the facility down immediately.

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher