Regulators Call For Tougher Natural Gas Storage Safety Measures

2015 California leak offered lessons

Posted October 19, 2016 at 1:36pm

Natural gas storage operators would face tougher requirements under new safety recommendations released Tuesday by a federal task force ordered by Congress, just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the nation’s largest methane leak from a natural gas facility.

Drawing lessons from a massive leak at California’s Aliso Canyon facility last year, officials led by the Department of Energy and the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, with other federal and state representatives, made 44 recommendations, including rigorous self-monitoring by natural gas operators.

The group also called for leakage surveys, upgrading substandard wells and phasing out older “single point-of-failure wells” from which leaks are harder to contain.

The October 2015 leak at Aliso Canyon, 30 miles outside Los Angeles, released about 62 million cubic feet a day of methane, which is the main component of natural gas. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and thousands of residents were displaced while a temporary plug was used to stop the leak in February.

After that incident, the Obama administration formed the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety that issued Tuesday’s recommendations, which will be incorporated in regulations to be proposed by the pipeline safety agency in phases during the next two years, according to PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez. The first set of rules is to be proposed this year.

[Natural Gas Boom Prompts Questions in Congress on the Industry’s Future]

The cost to industry to implement the eventual regulations will be estimated when they are proposed, Dominguez said in a phone briefing for reporters.

“We understand how much disruption occurred at Aliso Canyon,” Franklin Orr, DOE’s Undersecretary for Science and Energy said on the call. “We want to acknowledge that terrible event and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Dominguez also cited the California leak as the impetus for the report.

“Aliso Canyon was a clear acknowledgement that we have aging infrastructure in this country,” she said.

Congress in June passed a bill that not only authorized $720 million for PHMSA programs through fiscal 2019, but also directed the agency to set minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and create a user fee on pipeline operators to fund the creation and enforcement of those standards. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

In the meantime, the task force members said that companies operating natural gas storage facilities should voluntarily adopt the recommendations as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of leaks.