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Federal agencies launch effort to improve gas storage safety, oversight

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Essential Energy Insights - October 2021


Federal agencies launch effort to improve gas storage safety, oversight

Federal energy regulators on April 1 announced plans todevelop new regulations and stronger oversight of the nation's natural gasstorage systems.

In light of SouthernCalifornia Gas Co.'s multimonth Aliso Canyon gas storage leak, theU.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials SafetyAdministration announced a task force to determine how to improve system safetyand prevent similar incidents.

The DOE intends to hold workshops with a number ofstakeholders, including industry, state and local leaders, to develop bestpractices for ensuring companies maintain well integrity, have adequateincident response plans, safely operate their storage systems, and properlyassess their facilities' vulnerabilities. The DOE said it plans to publish thebest practices that emerge from the workshops.

Meanwhile, PHMSA said it plans to take regulatory action ongas storage. The administration noted that the American Petroleum Institutealready has issued gas storage facility safety recommended practices — whichthe American Gas Association and the Interstate Natural Gas Association ofAmerica endorse — and reiterated the importance of adopting these standards.PHMSA said its regulatory standards may be based on the API recommendedpractices.

The DOE-PHMSA task force will also involve experts from theU.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department ofInterior, FERC, and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We have made it a priority to support states andindustry to ensure our infrastructure is safe, and this task force's effortswill be an important step forward as we continue to work towards protectingpublic health and safety and making progress in reducing greenhouse gasemissions," the agencies said in a statement.

The breached Aliso Canyon well was to have been releasing 55MMcf/d to 62 MMcf/d of methane for at least part of the time it was leaking.Sempra Energysubsidiary SoCalGas discovered the leak in late October 2015, and the breachedwell continued spewing methane through mid-February.

The California Public Utilities Commission recentlypublished the results of surveys on all of the state's gas storage facilities,finding that there were 229 leaks.A majority of these were fixed immediately, according to the CPUC.

Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fundtouted the agencies' plan in an April 1 emailed statement.

"Aliso Canyon is the poster child for what happens whendilapidated oil and gas infrastructure meets poor maintenance, weak regulationsand lax oversight," Krupp said. "We applaud the administration formaking this challenge a national priority. This new task force has a crucialopportunity to prevent the next disaster, and to reduce the ongoing, invisibledamage caused by leakage from hundreds of these facilities spread all across thecountry. Now the task force must move swiftly to deliver new standards thataddress a problem that's been ignored for far too long."

Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill said in anApril 1 emailed statement that she and her organization were "heartened"by the Obama administration's announcement but argued that there ought to be "zerotolerance" for methane leaks.

"Now that some regulators are finally looking at thesefacilities, that could mean shutting down many of them," Krill said. "Hundredsof similar underground natural gas storage facilities across the country are atrisk for the similar disasters for community and climate."