Risk assessments, other measures sought for underground natural gas storage

The Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety, established in the wake of last year’s massive natural gas leak at California’s Aliso Canyon site, has urged a phase-out of “single point of failure” designs for gas storage.

The group issued a new report Oct. 18 intended to help reduce the risk of future such incidents. The 91-page report is titled “Ensuring Safe and Reliable Underground Natural Gas Storage.”

On Oct. 23, 2015, the largest methane leak from a natural gas storage facility in United States history was discovered by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) at well SS-25 in its Aliso Canyon Storage Field in Los Angeles County.

The leak continued for nearly four months until it was permanently sealed on Feb. 17, 2016.

“In the interim, residents of nearby neighborhoods experienced health symptoms consistent with exposures to odorants added to the natural gas; thousands of households were displaced; and the Governor of California declared a state of emergency for the area. Approximately 90,000 metric tons of methane was released from the well, although estimates vary and the State of California is continuing its analysis,” according to the report.

The report chronicles lessons learned from the Aliso Canyon leak and analyzes the nation’s more than 400 underground natural gas storage wells. It provides 44 recommendations to industry, federal, state, and local regulators and governments to reduce the likelihood of future leaks and minimize the impacts of any that occur.

In particular, the report recommends that, except under limited circumstances, facility operators phase out “single point of failure” designs that contributed to the inability to swiftly control and repair the Aliso Canyon leak.

The report recommends natural gas storage facility operators conduct risk assessments, develop and implement transition plans to address high-risk infrastructure, and apply robust procedures to maintain safety and reliability while the transition to modern well design standards is occurring.

The Task Force was co-chaired by Franklin Orr, Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); and Marie Therese Dominguez, Administrator of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“Natural gas plays an important role in our nation’s energy landscape, and we need to make sure the associated infrastructure is strong enough to maintain energy reliability, protect public health, and preserve our environment,” said Orr and Dominguez, who both visited the site of the Aliso Canyon leak shortly after it was controlled. “No community should have to go through something like Aliso Canyon again. Companies operating natural gas storage facilities should adopt the recommendations as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of future leaks.”

The Task Force pursued three primary areas of study: integrity of wells at natural gas storage facilities, public health and environmental effects from natural gas storage leaks, and energy reliability concerns in the case of future leaks. Three public workshops were held throughout the summer to hear from local and state level stakeholders, including gas storage operators and state regulators.

After providing Administration-wide support to the state response effort, in early 2016, the White House convened the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety following the nation’s largest ever natural gas leak at California’s Aliso Canyon facility. This task force is consistent with the requirements codified by Congress in the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2016, signed into law by President Obama in June 2016.

The legislation created a task force led by the Secretary of Energy that consists of representatives from the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and from state and local governments. The work of the task force builds on the recommendations outlined in the Administration’s 2015 Quadrennial Energy Review, which emphasized the urgent need to replace, expand, and modernize transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure.

Natural gas provides heat to millions of American homes and is expected to provide a third of our Nation’s total electric power generation this year, the co-chairs noted in the report.


About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.