Safety of the Southern California Gas Company Gas Storage Facility in Playa del Rey Complaint Case dated October 14, 2005 to the California Public Utilities Commission

BEFORE THE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

Rita Boppana, Complainant,

vs.

Southern California Gas Company, Defendant.

Case 00-05-010 (Filed May 11, 2000)

OPPOSITION TO THE MOTION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GAS COMPANY (U 904 G) TO FORECLOSE ADDITIONAL "EXPERT" TESTIMONY OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO SUSPEND PROCEDURAL SCHEDULE AND FOR AN ORDER SHORTENING TIME IN WHICH TO RESPOND

 

October 14, 2005
Jeanette Vosburg
GRASSROOTS COALITION
11924 W. Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90066
310-721-3512


I. INTRODUCTION:

A. NATURE OF THE COMPLAINT CASES:

The Complaint cases have asked the Commission to conduct an investigation to determine:
"If the SoCalGas Playa Del Rey gas storage facility is venting or leaking gas or depositing carcinogens into the air or soil to the detriment of the health or safety of the neighboring community." (emphasis added)

This language is set forth in the Scoping Memo and Ruling of Assigned Commissioner Consolidating Three Complaint Cases for Evidentiary Hearings and Setting Hearing and Testimony Schedule (Scoping Memo), dated March 7, 2005.

B. MANDATORY OBLIGATIONS OF SOCALGAS REGARDING SAFETY OF THE FACILITY:

The mandatory obligations imposed by the Legislature upon SOCALGAS as a Public Utility within this State include those set forth in Public Utility Code Section 451:
Every public utility shall furnish and maintain such adequate, efficient, just and reasonable service, instrumentalities, equipment, and facilities . . . as are necessary to promote the safety, health, comfort, and convenience of its patrons, employees and the public. (ß 451 ñ emphasis added)

The Complaint cases address the failure of SOCALGAS to maintain the following instrumentalities, equipment and facilities as are necessary to promote the safety, health, comfort, and convenience of the public:

(1) Gas Storage Field: The Playa Del Rey underground gas storage facility, operated in the partially depleted Playa Del Rey oilfield, and within a highly urbanized residential community; and,
(2) Abandoned Oil Wells: Hundreds of abandoned oil wells that were drilled in the 1930ís and 1940ís, and are now serving as conduits for oilfield gases to migrate into the near-surface soils and fresh water aquifers, all in violation of California laws; and,
(3) Active Gas Wells: Many active gas wells that are leaking oilfield gases to the surface, into surface casings, and into the near-surface soils and fresh water aquifers including intentional venting of gases into the air; and,
(4) Tank Farm: Surface operations for oil, gas and brine water separation that release hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) into the air within the residential communities surrounding the tank farm; and,
(5) Compressor Station: Exhaust emissions and intentional releases of hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) into the air within the residential communities that surround the compressor station location on the bluffs area of Playa Del Rey; and,
(6) Pipeline Leaks: Pipelines, primarily located underground, that corrode, leak and endanger the surrounding residential communities.

C. FAILURE OF SOCALGAS TO EMPLOY PROPER MONITORING FOR PUBLIC SAFETY:

SOCALGAS has failed to perform proper soil gas monitoring, including the failure to monitor for the enormous build-up of explosive oilfield gases within the near surface freshwater aquifers. In particular, the 50 Foot Gravel has built-up to nearly 900,000 parts per million of explosive gas, and the gas has migrated directly under high density residential construction.

D. FAILURE OF SOCALGAS TO INSTALL A SHALLOW GAS COLLECTION SYSTEM:

SOCALGAS has taken no steps to collect, or intercept, the highly explosive oilfield gases that have leaked into the shallow aquifers, and into shallow soils that they do not own, or have a right to store gas within these areas.

E. CANCER AND BIRTH DEFECTS CAUSING CHEMICALS ARE BEING RELEASED INTO THE AIR AND FRESHWATER AQUIFERS IN VIOLATION OF STATE LAWS:

The upward migrating oilfield gases, owned or possessed by SOCALGAS, serve as carrier gases for Benzene, Toluene and Radon, chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects. Proposition 65 absolutely prohibits the release of these chemicals into the near-surface aquifers. These aquifers serve the freshwater consumption needs of the cities of Santa Monica and Hawthorne, plus others.

II. THE NECESSITY FOR A FULL-SCALE INVESTIGATION OF THESE CONDITIONS:

The primary purpose of the subject complaints is to call upon the Public Utilities Commission to exercise its Jurisdictional Authority, as granted by the California Constitution, to investigate the above-identified hazardous conditions.

Beginning on or about the year 1992, and continuing to the present, Grassroots Coalition ñ along with highly qualified oil and gas petroleum experts ñ have undertaken extensive investigations of the above-identified health and safety hazards. At all times, the results of these investigations have been made extensively available to the California Public Utilities Commission, their environmental consultants, and their engineering and scientific staffs. Literally, years of technical meetings have been held, including extensive scientific briefings presented by experts retained by Grassroots Coalition.

The time has now come for SOCALGAS to fulfill their obligations to the public health and safety of the surrounding community to immediately implement the following:

A. A SOIL GAS MONITORING PROGRAM:

A soil gas monitoring program needs to be implemented using soil gas probes that can accurately measure gas concentrations at both shallow and deeper depths, at least reaching the 50 Foot Gravel. Also, water wells need to be installed to monitor for free and dissolved gases within the fresh water aquifers. The fresh water needs to be evaluated for BTEX concentrations, especially Benzene and Toluene that are highly soluble in water, and will concentrate as a result of the ongoing upward migration of oilfield gases.

Especially alarming are the measurement results reported in the Brown and Caldwell Report dated April 2004, performed at the Troxel well site location.  Detected groundwater concentrations of Benzene were measured at 9.1 ºg/L.  This report identifies that the primary maximum contaminant level (MCL) for Benzene is 1 ºg/L.  Accordingly, the limited studies that have addressed the hazards posed by the Benzene concentrations in groundwater would indicate a hazard level more than nine times higher than the MCL.

This is an urgent need in order to be protective of the City of Santa Monica's and the City of Hawthorne's water usage from the impacted Ballona and Silverado Aquifers, that overly the subject oilfield gas seepage.

B. WELL LEAKAGE EVALUATION USING APPROPRIATE SOIL GAS MONITORING PROCEDURES:

Every oil and gas well within the Playa Del Rey Oilfield, whether active or abandoned, urgently needs to be evaluated for well leakage problems. A properly implemented soil gas monitoring program, including the use of deep soil gas probes, is necessary for this purpose. In addition, a careful review needs to be made of the well records, including well histories regarding leakage, and evidence of seal failures.

C. SUBSIDENCE MONITORING PROGRAM:

A subsidence monitoring program needs to be implemented to be compliant with State laws regarding avoiding subsidence in coastal areas from oilfield fluid production. Subsidence had been monitored for the Playa Del Rey Oilfield up to approximately 1970. This showed a high degree of correlation between the fluid production from the oilfield and the subsidence. No subsidence studies have been performed since that time, even though the cumulative subsidence had reached nearly three feet by 1970.

A water injection program was initiated, but was not continued. The correlation between land subsidence and gas migration has been well established, including its impact upon degrading well integrity.

D. LOWER GAS STORAGE RESERVOIR PRESSURE:

The pressure within the primary gas storage area needs to be lowered to approximately 700 pounds per square inch. This is to prevent gas migration from the authorized primary storage area into the unauthorized storage areas, including the Gas Cap, Townsite and Troxel areas. This is necessary to minimize the risks posed by well leaks that are directly proportional to, and correlate with, the gas storage reservoir pressure. This also controls gas migration into the surrounding unauthorized storage fields.

A Soil Gas Monitoring Program (Item A, above) and a Well Leakage Evaluation (Item B, above), utilizing appropriate soil gas monitoring probes is essential. Procedures utilizing bar holes employed by SOCALGAS are inappropriate.

The Updated/Amended Testimony, and the prior testimony, makes clear that the primary standard of care for the subject area has been established through the procedures employed by Exploration Technologies, Inc. (ETI). These procedures employed shallow four-foot soil gas probe studies carried out on a 100-foot by 100-foot matrix grid. This was in combination with deeper soil gas probes, and water wells, that investigated sol gas concentrations extending into the 50 Foot Gravel, and other permeable oilfield gas collector zones. However, SOCALGAS interceded and prevented the City of Los Angeles, and ETI, from performing these studies outside of the Playa Vista boundaries.

E. STOP VENTING HAZARDOUS AIR POLLUTANTS AND AIR TOXIC EMISSIONS FROM SURFACE FACILITIES:

Currently, SOCALGAS vents hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) and air toxics into the air from their surface facilities that include the tank farm, compressor station, and oilfield gas build-up in surface casings. These hazardous chemicals are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health consequences to the surrounding residential community.

The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) issued by the City of Los Angeles requires SOCALGAS to employ the best available technology to control these emissions. However, no scrubbers or other environmental controls have ever been installed at the location of these toxic releases.

Many of the toxic chemical releases are associated with intentional venting, and include no warnings to the surrounding residential communities.

III. THE PUC EVIDENTIARY HEARINGS ARE INTENDED TO ADDRESS THE ABOVE URGENT NEEDS:

It is paramount that the subject Evidentiary Hearings that are scheduled to take place on November 16-18, and November 21 and 22, 2005 move forward as scheduled. SOCALGAS is attempting to place artificial road blocks in the pathway of addressing the paramount concerns over these hazards. The approach is clear, including by way of the Gas Inventory Monitoring, Verification, and Reporting Procedures (SOCALGAS Appendix A ñ Proponent's Environmental Assessment for the SOCALGAS Proposed Sale of Lots, dated June 2000) that was testified to at the time of the ß 851 Evidentiary Hearings. Mr. Mansdorfer admitted that this Appendix A plan had not been implemented at Playa Del Rey. Left unexplained by SOCALGAS, was why this Appendix A was included in a document submitted to the PUC regarding the Lot Sales at Playa Del Rey if it had no relationship or purpose for the Playa Del Rey gas storage field. Mr. Mansdorfer claimed that it was developed for the Montebello Gas Storage Field because of the detection of storage gas located in the near surface soils.

The Updated/Amended Testimony of Grassroots has quoted extensively from a report prepared by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission, dated August 20, 2002, and revised November 18, 2004. These data identify the high levels of Helium measured in the near surface soils, and water table, in the immediate vicinity of the Playa Del Rey gas storage field. Also, extremely high levels of oilfield gas constituents including Methane, Ethane, Propane, Butane, etc. have been measured at the locations of these Helium concentrations. Methane levels have been measured at maximum concentrations approaching 900,000 parts per million. These levels have been detected in near surface soils, and in the shallow water table that directly underlies residential areas. These magnitudes are nearly eighteen times (18×) the explosive limit of methane gas, the principle constituent of the near surface soil gases.

These near surface gas concentrations contain all of the chemical constituents associated with the oilfield and storage gases owned or possessed by SOCALGAS as part of their mineral rights. Accordingly, the primary thrust of the Complaint case needs to focus upon what studies are necessary, and how should these be implemented, so as to address the obvious nature of these environmental hazards that have been either ignored or denied by SOCALGAS.

IV. THE MOTION BY SOCALGAS TO FURTHER DELAY THESE EVIDENTIARY HEARINGS SHOULD BE DENIED:

Thousands of hours of effort have been undertaken by Grassroots to inform both the CPUC and SOCALGAS regarding the enormous environmental hazards related to the Playa Del Rey Gas Storage Facility. SOCALGAS has adopted a corporate philosophy of denying the existence of these health and safety hazards. The CPUC has undertaken limited investigations into these problems.

The Updated/Amended Testimony submitted by Grassroots Coalition clearly addresses all of the above topics that are of grave concern to the surrounding community. It is now time for SOCALGAS to be held responsible for fulfilling their mandatory obligations imposed by law.

This is the time for SOCALGAS to stop delegating their responsibilities to others, including Grassroots Coalition. Grassroots Coalition is a volunteer organization that has undertaken this representation to disclose the lack of responsibility of SOCALGAS in being protective of the health and safety of the surrounding community.

The current well leakage problems with the University City Syndicate Well is indicative of this disregard. SOCALGAS has denied any responsibility, but has failed to investigate any of the surrounding circumstances.

They have denied any leakage problems from their wells, which defies any and all experiences in operating a high-pressure underground gas storage facility in a partially depleted oilfield.

SOCALGAS has failed to demonstrate that they have operated the subject facility employing proper standard of care procedures employed in the underground gas storage industry. This has included zero accountability of gas inventory losses, well leakage integrity, soil gas monitoring results, or any other documentation supportive of their verbal claims of no health and safety hazards.

CONCLUSION:

The Motion of SOCALGAS to foreclose additional Expert testimony should be denied. The Hearing schedule should be retained to address the urgent issues identified above at the earliest possible opportunity. There is no evidence to indicate that the identified hazards are diminishing.

DATED: October 14, 2005

Respectfully submitted,

____________________________

Patricia McPherson,
Grassroots Coalition,
on behalf of Complainants