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August 9, 2016

Southern California natural gas inventories nearly flat this injection season

graph of SoCalGas natural gas inventory, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on EIA-191, and SoCalGas Envoy

During the summer, when storage operators are typically injecting natural gas into storage facilities to build up inventories before the winter months, natural gas inventories in Southern California have remained nearly flat. Underground natural gas storage wells at the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon facility, by far the largest storage field in the region, are undergoing testing, following a leak that was detected in late October 2015 and stopped in February 2016. Approval from regulators is required before operators can begin to inject natural gas into this storage field.

Aliso Canyon accounts for 86 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of SoCalGas's total capacity of 135 Bcf. After the leak, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ordered that Aliso Canyon inventory levels be reduced to 15 Bcf. Other SoCalGas storage fields, with a combined capacity of 49 Bcf, are nearly full. The inventory levels in these fields are estimated at 46 Bcf, or 93% of capacity, based on data provided by SoCalGas.

Aliso Canyon is connected to the Los Angeles Basin's lower-pressure local natural gas transmission system, sometimes referred to as the L.A. Loop. Prior to the leak, Aliso Canyon could provide up to 1.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), a specification known as sendout capacity. Only one other SoCalGas storage field (Playa del Ray) is connected to this system, but it has a much lower sendout capacity of 0.4 Bcf/d. Two other SoCalGas storage fields have a combined sendout capacity of 1.4 Bcf/d, but are farther away or not well connected to the L.A. Loop.

graph of Southern California Gas Company sendout capacity by field, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on EIA-191 and Southern California Gas Company
Note: Field locations are approximate.

The California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ordered testing of each of the 114 wells at Aliso Canyon before injection may resume. As of August 8, 17 wells have passed all tests. The remaining wells are being tested or have test results pending. During March and April, wells were tested for temperature and noise, as any leaking gas would create noise and be detectable by changes in temperature in the well casing.

During the leak, the exact emissions rate and cumulative leakage were unknown, and changes in inventory levels only reflected net changes in natural gas sendouts and receipts. In late May, SoCalGas completed the physical measurement of its gas inventory and provided an estimate of the leaked volume. SoCalGas estimated that 4.62 Bcf leaked over the span of 112 days, an amount equivalent to 84,200 metric tons of methane. On June 20, SoCalGas subtracted 4.62 Bcf of natural gas from its total inventory.

Principal contributor: Owen Comstock