Safety changes underway to SCV’s SoCal Gas operation


Ongoing safety changes made to natural gas storage and delivery pipes and wells by Southern California Gas Company at its Honor Rancho facility in Valencia are expected to cut natural gas delivery by half.

Despite the drop in the amount of natural gas transferred from the site, however, the Santa Clarita Valley operation remains the gas company’s largest distributor of the commodity among its four storage setups in Southern California.

The utility began making safety changes last month at three of its natural gas storage facilities – Playa Del Rey, La Goleta and at the Honor Rancho site on Newhall Ranch Road, west of Walmart.

The changes – called safety enhancements and integrity assessments – are being made in an effort by the company to comply with a state order issued a year ago, to avoid the type of hazardous incident that occurred at its Porter Ranch facility.

Southern California Gas Co. pleaded no contest in September to polluting the air at its Aliso Canyon operation in Porter Ranch in October 2015, agreeing to pay at least $4 million in fines and upgrades to monitoring gas leaks.

On Feb. 15, Rodger R. Schwecke, SoCal Gas vice president of gas transmission and storage, sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission saying the company had made extensive safety enhancements at the Aliso Canyon storage field.

In the same letter, he assured the state commission that it was also making the same safety changes at its storage facility in the SCV.

New tubes

One of the changes calls for converting each of the wells in the SCV – and at wells in Playa Del Rey and Goleta – to using a particular type of tubing, referred to as “tubing flow only” tubes.

“SoCal Gas has made extensive safety enhancements at the Aliso Canyon storage field,” Schwecke wrote.

“These safety enhancements include reconfiguring wells to flow gas only through new inner steel tubing – this enabling the outer casing to function as a secondary safety barrier.”

In the process of making the change, the company notes it will see its delivery of natural gas reduced.

Before the changes were made, the Newhall Ranch Road operation was delivering natural gas at a rate of 1,000 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The local rate is more than double either of the other two natural gas storage facilities currently being improved for safety.

Even with eight to 10 local wells shut down while the safety changes are made, however, the amount of natural gas leaving SCV – even when the delivery rate is cut in half – is still more than the natural gas leaving either of the other two sites.

How did natural as storage at Honor Rancho site get so big?

Honor Rancho

Back in 2009, the company applied to the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to expand its gas-making operation north of Newhall Ranch Road and west of Aurora Drive, near the Walmart at Newhall Ranch and Rye Canyon/Copperhill.

From 2010 to 2013, the big drilling rigs seen along Newhall Ranch Road were doubling natural gas production and storage in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Over those three years, the gas company boosted production and storage of natural gas from about 2,000 barrels daily on a good day to 4,500 barrels per day on a continuous basis for several years,” state documents said.

In his letter to state officials updating the utility’s safety changes, Schwecke said all safety improvements – called for by the Natural Resources Agency, Department of Conservation, Division of oil, gas and geothermal resources – should be completed by August.

The changes at Honor Rancho, in light of the Porter Ranch incident, were codified as part of Senate Bill 380.

Schwecke, in his letter, said the company has learned from the experience in Porter Ranch.

“SoCal Gas has been applying our experience and knowledge gained from Aliso Canyon to enhance the safety or our other underground storage fields.”

No contest

In September, lawyers, appearing before Judge Alan Rosenfield in the Santa Clarita Courthouse, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26, 2015.

A list of more than a dozen terms to which gas company agreed to meet, including paying a maximum fine of $75,000 for having failed to report the leak in a timely manner, was read off by Deputy District Attorney Dan Wright of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

Pursuant to the plea, SoCal Gas was ordered to pay $307,500 which includes the maximum fine of $75,000 plus a penalty assessment of $232,500.

The fine represents being fined $25,000 a day for each day that it failed to notify the California Office of Emergency Services about the leak.

For three days in late October, SoCal Gas violated the state’s Health and Safety Code when it failed to report the release of “hazardous material” to the California Office of Emergency Services and to the local Certified Unified Program Agency.

The gas leak, which began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016, spewed massive amounts of gas into the atmosphere, prompting a state of emergency, widespread evacuations of the area and the filing of criminal charges against SoCal Gas.

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