California Gas Leak May Mean Summer Power Outages

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By Carolyn Whetzel

April 5 — Millions of Southern California utility customers face possible power outages this summer during peak demand periods due to the limited operation of Southern California Gas Co.'s natural gas storage field near Los Angeles, state energy officials said April 5.

A moratorium on new injections of gas imposed at the Aliso Canyon facility after discovery of a leaking well in October means only 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas remains in the underground reservoir, which serves the entire Los Angeles basin.

Measures are needed to use the remaining gas prudently to prevent power disruptions during hot weather and ensure that sufficient gas is available for next winter, officials said in a conference call with reporters

During the call, state officials and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced the release of a draft action plan ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to preserve the limited gas supplies and minimize electricity outages this summer. Another plan will be developed later to address possible shortages in the winter months, officials said.

11 Million Customers

The Aliso Canyon storage field is critical to the transmission and distribution of natural gas in the greater Los Angeles area. It supplies 11 million customers of SoCalGas with gas for home heating, water heaters and cooking stoves, as well as for natural-gas-fired power plants in the basin.

A technical document released along with the draft action plan suggests there are 14 days this summer when gas curtailments could be high enough to interrupt electricity service. Hotter than anticipated weather could increase demand for power and result in additional outages, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said.

The draft plan outlines a series of measures to preserve the Aliso Canyon gas supplies, Picker said.

Completing the safety review of all 114 wells at the underground storage facility tops the list of the measures. The safety reviews are under way, but will take some time, officials said.

Changes to tariffs, such as implementing tighter gas balancing rules and modifying various operational requirements, also could help preserve gas supplies at the facility, according to the plan.

Other actions would establish more specific gas allocation among the electricity generators and determine if maintenance can be deferred.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) said it would curtail sales of wholesale electricity and stop its economic dispatch program, which involves using the lowest-cost resources first.

“The measures are not easy and will take us a lot of time to implement,” he said. “And they're not cost-free. Some will require regulatory approval. We may have to go the federal government to make some of the tariff changes.”

Reducing Demand Is Key

Reducing consumer demand for electricity and natural gas is key, Picker said. That means turning up the thermostats on air conditioners and using natural gas appliances less, he said.

Prudent use of the gas resources is “our last line of defense,” Picker said.

The CPUC, California Energy Commission, California Independent System Operator and LADWP developed the draft response plan.

A workshop is planned for April 8 at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodlands Hills to hear public input on the draft plan. Written comments can be submitted through April 22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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