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Calif. agencies propose new methane policies as utilities report 229 gas storage leaks

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Calif. agencies propose new methane policies as utilities report 229 gas storage leaks

California regulators are working to from thestate's gas utilities, which recently reported a total of 229 leaks on theirgas storage systems.

Responding to state statutory mandates to reduce methaneemissions, the California Public Utilities Commission, in collaboration withthe California Air Resources Board, on March 24 proposed more than two dozenrecommended practices encompassing leak prevention, leak detection, leakrepairs, training, record-keeping and other procedures.

Specifically, the CPUC and CARB proposed that gas utilitiesbulk up their emergency procedures and their training policies to ensure thecompanies and their employees know how to both prevent and stop uncontrolledmethane releases from gas storage facilities and other parts of the system. Theagencies also said operators ought to put in place systems and equipment tostanch uncontrolled flows of methane.

The CPUC and CARB singled out gas storage facilities asespecially critical to watch because they contain so much methane, noting thatan uncontrolled release from a storage field can "negate the methanereductions of other utilities, increase greenhouse gases and endanger publichealth by releasing large amounts of odorant and other toxic natural gasby-products."

SempraEnergy subsidiary Southern California Gas Co.'s recent gas storage facility leakwas estimated to have leaked approximately as much gas on a daily basis as theproducers in the BarnettShale, and mercaptans — odorants injected into natural gas — fromthe leak prompted thousands of local residents to relocate for months while thebreach was being sealed.

In light of the Aliso Canyon leak, the CPUC directed thestate's storage operators to take and submit inventories of the number of leakson their gas storage systems. Across 12 facilities, the operators identified229 leaks, most of which were repaired by the time the companies reported themto the CPUC, the commission said on March 16. The lion's share of the lesspressing leaks were scheduled for repair, according to the companies.

SoCalGas found a total of 105 above-ground leaks at itsfacilities, Aliso Canyon, Goleta, Honor Rancho, Playa Del Rey and Montebello. AlisoCanyon, an exceptionally sizeable gas storage field, had 66 of those leaks. Allof these were dubbed minor, non-hazardous leaks, meaning they did not pose animmediate danger to the public, property or the environment and they could berepaired relatively simply, SoCalGas said.

At PG&ECorp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s facilities — Los Medanos,Pleasant Creek and McDonald Island — the company found 83 leaks on above-groundfittings, valves and rims, and one leak below-ground on a transmission piperim. As of early March, PG&E told the CPUC that only seven leaks werewaiting to be fixed.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has been a majorproponent of methane leak research and mitigation, on March 30 praised theCPUC's proactive approach to identifying and addressing these emissions.Timothy O'Connor, the director of EDF's oil and gas program, in a blog postsaid that the CPUC and CARB recommendations go a long way toward "bringinglocal gas utilities to the 21st century."

The agencies proposed requiring companies to installstationary methane detectors at storage facilities, compressor stations andterminals, among other sites. The CPUC and CARB noted that some of thetechnology that would fulfill this recommendation is still in research anddevelopment, the regulators said they expect more cost-effective technologiesto be commercially available by early 2018.

"These recommendations, if adopted and implemented,would make huge strides in improving how California's utilities and storageproviders manage natural gas," O'Connor said. "It would also bringall of these companies up to modern standards, instead of having only somecompanies taking leading positions."