Activists raise safety concerns about the underground gas storage facility in Playa del Rey

By Gary Walker

A nearly 100-foot flame burst from the Southern California Gas Co. facility in Playa del Rey on Jan. 6, 2013, after gas ignited while being injected into the storage field

Invoking the memory of the disastrous October 2015 leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Porter Ranch, a national corporate accountability group is joining local efforts to push for additional safety precautions at the Southern California Gas Company’s underground gas storage facility in Playa del Rey.

Food & Water Watch, a spinoff organization from the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen and the first organization to call for a national ban on fracking, is calling for tighter safety controls at the Playa del Rey facility and aims to eventually shut the facility down.

The 3,600-acre natural gas storage field between Culver Boulevard and the luxury homes that dot the Playa del Rey bluffs contains 54 active wells and supplies energy to 12,000 households per year, according to SoCal Gas.

At a June 17 town hall in Westchester, Food & Water Watch sought to put a human face to the Aliso Canyon debacle by inviting several Porter Ranch residents to address the 150 locals in attendance.

“I had aching muscles, diarrhea, nausea and migraine headaches,” said Lori Aivazian, a former Venice resident who lived in Porter Ranch during the gas leak. “I felt like a prisoner in my own home.”

While Playa del Rey has experienced nothing like Aliso Canyon, back in January 2013 the ignition of gas being injected into the storage field produced flames that shot almost 100-feet in the air, alarming locals and causing SoCal Gas to momentarily shut down operations.

“Just because it’s smaller [than Aliso Canyon] doesn’t mean it’s without risks,” Food & Water Watch senior organizer Alexandra Nagy said.

Last year there were three “minor, non-hazardous” above-ground leaks at the Playa del Rey storage facility, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

SoCal Gas representatives say the company has installed a remote pressure monitoring system for all wells at the Playa del Rey facility, is conducting daily patrols to inspect for leaks and has configured the vast majority of wells so that natural gas only flows through newly installed steel inner-tubes.

Since the Aliso Canyon leak, state regulators have imposed emergency safety regulations that include daily inspections of gas storage well heads, measurement of gas pressure within wells, verifying the integrity of all gas storage wells, regular testing of all wells’ safety values and a risk-management plan at all facilities that evaluates and prepares for risks, including corrosion of pipes and equipment.

“Our field engineers make regular visits for routine inspections and have been out there [at the Playa del Rey facility] quite a bit recently to discuss the state’s new emergency regulations,” said Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Gas, Oil and Geothermal Resources.

In a statement, SoCal Gas officials said the company has worked with state agencies, industry experts and the Porter Ranch community to introduce safety enhancements, comprehensive inspections and advanced monitoring technologies at Aliso Canyon.

“Many of these new enhancements have already been introduced at our facility in Playa del Rey,” the statement reads.

Agnes Huff, who lives on the bluffs above the Playa del Rey gas storage field and runs a public relations firm, supports any new safety measures
that could help prevent leaks.

“Porter Ranch was a disaster for the residents of that community and we can’t let something like that happen here. The more prudent and careful that we are, the better off that we’ll be in the long run,” she said.

Huff recalled her anxieties after the Aliso Canyon leak: “My first thought was ‘We are sitting on a similar land mine.’”

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has also proposed tougher natural gas well construction standards and daily testing of well equipment. The agency is holding a public hearing about its proposals at 9 a.m. on July 12 in the Ronald Reagan State Building at 300 S. Spring St. in downtown Los Angeles.

Food & Water Watch is backing a proposed Los Angeles city ordinance that would disallow oil- and gas-related activities associated with well production within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, medical clinics and childcare facilities. The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee is expected to discuss the proposal this summer.

Huff, who said she’s smelled gas coming from the facility while walking her dog in the bluffs, hopes SoCal Gas will be as proactive about safety as possible.

“It shouldn’t have to come to an ordinance,” she said. “It should be how you do business.”

For more information about the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources proposals, visit conservation.ca.gov/dog.

gary@argonautnews.com

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