The greater Los Angeles area faces another summer that could be plagued by tight natural gas supplies and price hikes for power generators due to ongoing gas transmission line outages and limits on the use of the SoCal Gas Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field.
June looks to be the tightest month for gas supplies, according to Lana Wong, California Energy Commission senior analyst. She spoke May 23 at a CEC meeting on energy reliability in Southern California.
Wong explained that one gas pipe that ruptured in 2017, line 235, will remain out of service for repairs through at least June 9. Subsequent to the rupture, numerous additional leakage points were found along Line 235. Those leaks had to be repaired.
After line 235 is fixed, she said, SoCal Gas will take line 4000—which has been operating at reduced pressure due to integrity problems—out of service for repairs.
Gas prices spiked this winter at the SoCal Gas citygate during cold weather in Southern California, according to an analysis done by the CEC and other agencies. Prices hit as high as $26/MMBtu on Feb. 20, up from a winter-time average of less than $5/MMBtu.
Limited pipeline capacity will continue to crimp incoming natural gas supplies to the greater Los Angeles area until at least Aug. 9, the earliest date that Line 4000 could be returned to service, according to Wong, which is an indefinite target.
“There have been numerous slippages on return to service dates,” she warned. “Some of us are beginning to wonder if this is the new normal.”
Deteriorating gas supply infrastructure has crimped gas supplies and caused price spikes in the Los Angeles area for the last four years, following the massive well blowout at Aliso Canyon in 2015. The massive leak forced evacuation of thousands of households and businesses in the surrounding community for months.
David Bisi, SoCal Gas gas transmission planning manager, acknowledged that if both pipelines are out of service this summer SoCal Gas will have trouble meeting demand without drawing gas from Aliso Canyon. However, he said the utility will be able to meet peak gas demand this summer if all goes well and both pipelines are returned to service under reduced pressure.
High demand for heating, coupled with crimped pipeline capacity, caused SoCal Gas to draw down its limited storage capacity from 77 Bcf going into last winter to 38 Bcf in March, according to Simon Baker, California Public Utilities Commission Energy Division deputy director.
He said that power prices rose in response to the gas price spikes last winter.
Wong warned that if pipeline outages continue into fall, SoCal Gas could enter next winter with minimal storage. She said that state energy agencies are closely watching the gas supply situation in the Los Angeles area and may have to develop an emergency supply plan for winter of 2019-20.
Bisi agreed, saying that the utility will not be able to store an adequate amount of gas for next winter if both Lines 235 and 4000 are out of service this summer.
A natural gas consultant, Rod Walker, questioned how the pipeline deterioration occurred in the SoCal Gas system. He also questioned if the utility had a pipeline maintenance and replacement plan in place and why it and Pacific Gas & Electric, which had a major pipeline explosion in San Bruno, did not make full use of inline pipeline inspection technology until 2010 It’s been commercially available since 1990.
Walker advocated that the CPUC should take non-working pipelines out of the utility’s ratebase if outages are extended and questioned whether the CPUC had adequate staff to properly oversee pipeline integrity.
He noted that the pipeline that ruptured was more than 60 years old.
Bisi of SoCal Gas said the utility began using inline pipeline inspection technology prior to the San Bruno disaster and has been subject to pipeline integrity standards since 2003.
—William J. Kelly