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Which Way the Wind Blows: The Future of Aliso Canyon

Aliso Canyon

It’s been almost seven years since the worst natural gas leak in the nation’s history at Aliso Canyon in the heart of Porter Ranch.

2022 however, is turning out to be a pivotal year for the future of the plant. 

In February Senator Henry Stern introduced SB1486 to permanently close the facility and use it only as an asset of last resort. March 15 was the deadline for the 35,000 plaintiffs to  sign an agreement to participate in the $1.8 billion settlement to release and settle the case against So Cal Gas. On March 30 Save Porter Ranch is holding a rally in support of Stern’s bill to close it down. 

But should it close is the question today.

In November 2021 the Public Utility Commission voted to increase the level of natural gas stored at Aliso Canyon by 20%.

Which has outraged many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. One woman, who claims her mother died of multiple myeloma following the 2015 leak, told Valley News Group, “Don’t call it a leak. Call it a blowout. 11,000 people were relocated. We were told not to use our cellphones or smoke at home. We can’t prove wrongful death but my mother died from exposure to toxins. There’s still oil and gas going through fissures in the ground from abandoned wells up there. When it blew in 2015 it sprayed oil all over our yard. Dogs were dying outside. We can’t bring my mom back but something has to be done. That land is soft and that gas is lethal. It’s a gas facility built along a fault line and it’s fragile and unstable.”

Senator Stern agrees. “I don’t want to pump anything else into that field. I don’t trust the earthquake seismicity. There’s a lot of oil and gas, barium and other stuff underground.” Stern says a CSUN earthquake expert has not finished a seismic study on the site. “It’s unconscionable  to use it right now.”

His plan is to institute an orderly shutdown of Aliso Canyon from now until 2027 and use it only as a last resort. “I want it effectively closed this year. By the time the bill takes effect, we could use it only in a super emergency scenario, if there was no more gas in any other pipeline to serve the area.”

He wants to transition the land to alternative energy – built only above ground. His bill also contains provisions to retain jobs at the facility building those alternatives. “I want nothing else in the ground. No more injections there at all, unless someone proves that the geology is solid and there are no seismic issues. Build battery, solar or even wind there. We need to get creative about alternative energy systems.” 

Councilman John Lee, whose 12th district includes Porter Ranch and Aliso Canyon, agrees on the plan for alternative energy, but says the plant should remain open, but slowly convert from producing natural gas to producing green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity. (see accompanying sidebar). So Cal Gas proposed on February 17 phasing out natural gas and converting it as part of their “Angeles Link” plan to introduce clean, renewable electricity sources to decrease the city’s reliance on natural gas, diesel and fossil fuels. 

“Angeles Link is the first real proposal I’ve seen that can substantially decrease the need for natural gas in the city of Los Angeles without compromising grid reliability,” said Lee.

His major concern is that his constituents  don’t go without power. “You can’t just shut it off. People don’t understand the implications. We need reliability in this region – when temperatures hit 115 and everyone is using air conditioning in the valley, we need to turn the turbines to provide comfort to my district.”

“I’ve been working with SoCal Gas since I got elected, and have been pressing them to reduce the use of natural gas at the site. This is the first real plan put in front of me that has an impact at all. This could replace 25% of natural gas, with green hydrogen  fulfilling the city’s long term goal for clean energy by 2025.”

I want the government to work with the PUC and come out with a full plan with metrics on how we can make sure the goals of the city are eventually realized. I want to shut it down with a plan in place. People don’t realize how much the valley relies on its continued operations.

“This is a positive step by SoCal Gas towards meeting my continued demands that the utility develop a better vision for the region, one that includes facilitating the ultimate closure of Aliso Canyon,” said Lee.

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