After lengthy debate, the California Public Utilities Commission June 7 postponed a decision on whether to approve converting a depleted natural gas field in Sacramento into a gas storage facility to serve Sacramento Municipal Utility District power plants and other facilities. Commissioners agreed to decide the matter June 21. Pleading for approval with several mitigation measures, commissioner Tim Simon called the proposed project \u201cthe poster boy for natural gas safety.\u201d He also said the project was needed to enhance reliability at SMUD power plants and to boost the economy. Commissioner Mike Florio questioned the need for the project given the current glut of natural gas and the state\u2019s huge storage capacity. He also challenged the wisdom of approving a facility where a leak could be \u201ccatastrophic,\u201d even though he granted the probability of an accident is extremely low. Sacramento Natural Gas Storage intends to convert the Florin Gas Field--tapped out in the 1980s--into a new storage facility. The company would inject natural gas into a permeable sandstone formation 3,800 feet below homes, businesses, and a park in South Sacramento and withdraw it to feed the pipeline distribution system when needed. Raising environmental justice issues, the facility would lie in a working class area of the city that\u2019s home to people of color. Many of them have rallied in opposition, claiming the company is locating the project in their neighborhood because it\u2019s easier to steamroll over the objections of disadvantaged residents. The commission is considering three alternative decisions. One approves the facility. Another requires several mitigation measures, including ordering the firm to carry high levels of liability insurance and post $30 million in surety bonds. The third decision simply denies construction approval. Half of the facility\u2019s planned 8 billion cubic feet of storage capacity is contracted to SMUD under a 20-year agreement, according to the commission. The storage project also could enhance gas supplies for Pacific Gas & Electric customers, plus serve central heating, cooling, and power generating facilities for state facilities and industries in Sacramento, note regulatory documents. Despite opposition of neighbors, many in the community have voiced support for the project. The company has entered into mineral rights lease agreements with 556 property owners and pledged to provide money to non-profit groups for neighborhood improvement projects, such as parks, youth development programs, and traffic calming. The company also promises to provide $500,000 annually in new tax money to the city, plus bring in about $25 million\/year in revenues that will benefit the community. Two hundred workers would be employed during the three-month construction period and then 15 to 18 full-time employees would operate the facility, according to Simon. The commission debate focused on risks, however. The environmental analysis for the project showed it could create impacts that could not be mitigated, including potential contamination of groundwater with natural gas, leakage of gas into the atmosphere, and noise during construction. Simon maintained the likelihood of groundwater contamination or a leak to the surface is remote and, if it did occur at all, would happen in a slow, non-catastrophic manner over geologic time. Florio countered that migration of gas could occur relatively quickly due to well failure or fissures in the overlying rock that occur in response to, for instance, frequent pressure changes as the storage formation is repeatedly filled under pressure and then depressurized when tapped. This could have catastrophic consequences, he said. Commissioner Catherine Sandoval asked staff to provide information on previous leaks at gas storage facilities in California, including in Montebello where leakage resulted in condemnation of properties and the eventual closure of one storage field. If the CPUC approves it, the company still would need final approval from the city of Sacramento.