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Aliso Canyon's future being hashed out among lawmakers, residents, regulators

Nearly a year after the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field leak was plugged, the facility's fate is up for debate among legislators, regulators and in the public.

After reviewing the tests that facility operator Southern California Gas Co. has been performing on the injection and withdrawal wells, state regulators have held public hearings to discuss reopening the field. Advocates for keeping the facility closed responded by calling on community members to "show up in massive force" to pressure the state to decommission the field permanently.

Residents in the Porter Ranch community were displaced because of the leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and persisted into February 2016. The Save Porter Ranch advocacy group has argued against reopening the field at all, but the group has also spoken out against the prospect of bringing the facility back online before the root cause of the leak is known.

California state Sen. Henry Stern in January introduced legislation that would prevent the Sempra Energy subsidiary from reopening field until a state-sanctioned investigation is completed. "If we don't know what went wrong, how can we prevent it from happening again?" Stern said in a statement. "We need to get to the bottom of this before we even think about re-opening this facility, to do otherwise would be putting the safety of Porter Ranch and surrounding communities at risk."

A law that went into effect after the leak was discovered requires the California Public Utilities Commission and a division of the California Department of Conservation to evaluate the results of multi-phase testing SoCalGas must perform on wells the utility wishes to use again for gas injections. The law also mandates that the CPUC and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources hold public consultations before making a decision about whether the field is fit to reopen. However, the law does not dictate the degree to which the CPUC and DOGGR have to incorporate the public's response into their decision.

The CPUC has issued multiple reports since the facility was taken offline about the potential impacts of the field's unavailability on power and gas reliability. The conclusions have varied based on season but have largely concluded the mitigation measures including voluntary gas curtailments are necessary to prevent blackouts or shortages.

The CPUC plans to vote Feb. 9 on an order to open an investigation into determining the feasibility of minimizing or eliminating the use of Aliso Canyon. The investigation would be two-fold. The first phase would involve evaluating what the impact on rates and reliability would be if the state reduced or eliminated Aliso Canyon's role as a gas source. The commission would decide in a second investigation phase whether and how to use Aliso Canyon going forward.