A White House task force has recommended 44 safety changes for underground gas storage facilities after the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak in California last year – the worst methane leak in U.S. history. The changes, outlined in a report released today, are meant to reduce the risk of such incidents in the future.
Southern California Gas Co. owns the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility -the largest gas storage facility west of the Mississippi River. The leak spewed roughly 100,000 metric tons of methane over a four-month period before it was sealed on February 11, 2016. The well had a “single point of failure” design that relied on a single barrier to contain the gas. Because other chemicals, including benzene, can also be released during a well blowout, there are concerns about the long-term environmental impact of the leak.
Nationwide there are about 400 underground natural gas storage wells in 25 states. Most of them, 80 percent, were built before 1980. The older the well, the more likely it is to have a “single point of failure” design which doesn’t offer as much protection against leaks as more modern designs.
The report found that ruptures are uncommon, but outlined 44 recommendations to industry and regulatory bodies including phasing out the “single point of failure” design used at Aliso Canyon, conducting risk assessments and developing 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). It focussed on 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.
“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,” they said in a statement. “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.”