Photo Courtesy of Save Porter Ranch

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Attorneys for Los Angeles County have filed court papers in hopes of blocking a re-start of natural-gas injections at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch, challenging a determination by state regulators that it is safe to resume limited operations at the facility.

In a message to constituents, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said it is irresponsible to re-start Aliso Canyon until a study is completed into the cause of the four-month leak that sent tons of methane into the air from the facility and forced thousands of residents from their homes in late 2015 and early 2016.

“The facility must remain closed until the root cause analysis and energy reliability study are completed and the health concerns of our impacted residents are fully addressed to the satisfaction of county health officials,” Barger said.

Attorneys for the county plan to appear in court downtown Los Angeles on Friday, July 28, seeking a temporary restraining order barring Aliso Canyon from resuming operations.

Residents of the Porter Ranch held a rally at Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street, calling for the immediate closure of Aliso Canyon. The protest was organized by the Save Porter Ranch community group, which continues to demand that  Gov. Jerry Brown immediately and permanently close the facility.

“The chair of the California Energy Commission Chairman recently announced plans to phase out the Aliso Canyon over the next ten years,” Save Porter Ranch officials said in a statement. “Neighbors say that this is not nearly fast enough because daily leaks and accidents pose a serious threat to nearby communities.”

Matt Pakucko, president and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, said another rally is scheduled to take place on the courthouse steps when the temporary restraining order arguments are heard.

“SoCalGas still has not dug up the blown out well to do the Root Cause Analysis ( determine the cause of the blowout) as required by law,” Pakucko said, in an email. “We believe that is because they know that that was damaged by an earthquake which eventually caused the blowout.”

“And earthquakes are something that they cannot do anything to mitigate.” 

According to the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the investigation into the cause of the leak is continuing. Regardless of that study, the agencies on July 19 cleared the way for the Southern California Gas Co. to resume injections of natural gas to store at the facility.

“In order to protect public safety and the environment, this facility will be held to the most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation and will store only the minimum gas necessary to supply the Los Angeles area,” said Ken Harris, DOGGR oil and gas supervisor.

CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan said the facility would be restricted to about 28 percent of its operating capacity, “just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area.”

Concerns have been raised in the months since the leak about the possibility of electrical shortages due to the lack of natural gas from the Porter Ranch-area facility to operate power plants. Critics have blasted such claims as scare tactics meant to pressure regulators into allowing Aliso Canyon to resume operating — an accusation SoCalGas executives vehemently deny.

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 Porter Ranch-area residents. The leak, the largest of its kind in U.S. history, began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

But despite the seal of approval from the CPUC and the DOGGR, James Mansdorfer, who was formerly responsible for managing SoCalGas’ storage wells and reservoirs, told DOGGR he was concerned that movement on the Santa Susana fault would “almost surely sever the casing” and tubing of every gas well, “resulting in release of gas at a rate of 100 to 1,000 times the rate of the SS25 leak” that plagued Porter Ranch, a newspaper reported.

“My belief is that there is potential for catastrophic loss of life, and in light of SoCalGas refusal to openly address this risk, my ethics just will not allow me to stand by without making the public aware of what could happen,” Mansdorfer, who had also warned SoCalGas officials of the seismic risk in an email seven years ago, told DOGGR in a letter included with the county’s amended court filing, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

In court papers filed Monday, July 24, attorneys for the county argued that Aliso Canyon “cannot withstand” a major earthquake, and there is a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of such a temblor occurring in the Aliso Canyon area over the next 50 years.

Since 2006, there have been over 100 earthquakes in the Aliso Canyon area, with 16 ranging from 2.0 to 4.7 in magnitude, according to the Daily News.

SoCalGas officials, in a letter to the utility’s stakeholders, said Mansdorfer’s concerns were “carefully considered” by state regulators before they decided the facility is safe to resume limited operations.

The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol contributed to this report.