After more than a year of responding to fallout over the Porter Ranch gas leak – attending court, implementing court-ordered changes and installing new equipment – the Southern California Gas Co. announced Friday it was using new technology as it worked to replace pipes in the Santa Clarita Valley.
SoCal Gas told The Signal Friday that its workers were using “innovative gas capture technology” as they emptied natural gas from a permanently abandoned pipeline on Sierra Highway, just south of Placerita Canyon Road Friday.
Gas released and not captured – specifically methane – is what led to the company polluting the air at Aliso Canyon in Porter Ranch 20 months ago and to charges being filed ultimately against the gas operation in court.
For three days in late October 2015, 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 court learned in September.
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.
A misdemeanor complaint alleging the violation was filed on Feb. 2, 2016, by District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
In September 2016, Southern California Gas Co. pleaded no contest to polluting the air at its Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch in October, agreeing to pay at least $4 million in fines and upgrades to monitoring gas leaks.
Asked Friday if the “innovative gas capture technology” was one the court-ordered changes it promised to make, SoCal Gas spokeswoman Christine L. Detz said no.
“This pipeline work was conducted along Sierra Highway in Santa Clarita,” she said.
The technology was used to replace a segment of old pipe.
“The old pipeline was not leaking,” Detz said. “It was replaced as part of SoCal Gas’ Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan.”
“SoCal Gas identifies various pipeline sections throughout our system without a record of a pressure test and slates them to either be tested or replaced.”
SoCal Gas began using the new technology to capture methane about nine months ago.
“The special process allows for gas to be saved for later use while eliminating noise and emissions that occur in the traditional venting method.”
This week, crews decommissioned a two-and-half-mile section of pipeline that was recently replaced by a new pipeline in a new location. The work required the pipe to be completely emptied of about 422,050 cubic feet of natural gas.
In March, the utility began making safety changes 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.
One of the changes calls for converting each of the wells in the SCV – and at wells in Playa Del Rey and Goleta – to a “tubing flow only” process whereby tubes are only used to flow gas through, as opposed to moving gas in and out of the tube.
And in a plea deal made with prosecutors, SoCal Gas agreed in September to install infrared methane leak monitors around its perimeter fence at the Aliso Canyon site at a cost of between $1.2 and $1.5 million.
Also included in the agreement, six full-time employees would be hired to operate and maintain the new leak detection systems 24 hours a day.
Total cost for these positions will run some $2.25 million for the next three years.
SoCal Gas must, according to the agreement, install “real time” gas pressure monitors at each gas well as required by the state. The settlement requires that an outside company be retained to test and certify that both systems are working properly.
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