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Aliso Canyon Explosion: One Year Not Enough

Aliso Canyon has not yet reopened, and there are concerns about possible blackouts. (Environmental Defense Fund)
Aliso Canyon has not yet reopened, and there are concerns about possible blackouts. (Environmental Defense Fund)
October 24, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It's been a year now since methane was discovered flowing out of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, a leak that took nearly four months to stop.

And environmental groups are taking stock of the efforts made to fix the problem and prevent future blowouts.

Tim O'Connor, director of the California Oil and Gas Program with the Environmental Defense Fund, says since the leak – one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory – the state woke up to how lax oversight and regulations have led to the decay of natural gas infrastructure, as well as California's over reliance on natural gas.

"There has been a series of regulatory efforts to overhaul the way we manage and oversee oil and gas companies and a series of efforts to reduce that reliance on gas,” O’Connor states. “And there's been both action at the state level and the federal level, but of course in just one year you can't fix this problem."

A federal task force recently issued more than three dozen safety recommendations for gas storage facilities around the country, but O'Connor points out they are not requirements.

And he contends concrete state and federal standards are needed to protect the health and safety of communities from future methane leaks.

While proposed safety reforms have been well received by government leaders, O'Connor says some industry members suggest new regulations are too much and unnecessary. And he counters that swift action is needed.

"If we don't do this, it's not a question of whether there's going to be another blowout, it's a question of when,” he stresses. “We've been rolling the dice every single year and we need to stop playing chance with our natural gas infrastructure and start managing it to protect the environment and people."

Aliso Canyon has not yet reopened, and there are concerns about possible blackouts.

O'Connor says that leads to the larger question of how to reduce the reliance on natural gas. He argues more diversity is needed in the energy system, as well as market reforms.

"Things like renewable energy and energy storage can provide a vast amount of the services that natural gas can provide if only we had basic competition in these energy markets,” he states. “We need the federal government and the state governments to be doing more on this issue."

The owner of the Aliso Canyon facility, SoCalGas, agreed to pay a $4 million settlement for the disaster, which includes the adoption of a strong leak monitoring system.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - CA