Myles Osborne is a 1L and General Member of the Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law. This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate.
In late October 2015, the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility began spewing natural gas into the air over the San Fernando Valley at a rate of 110,000 pounds per hour. Composed primarily of methane, a “short-lived” climate pollutant with twenty-five times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide, the leak effectively doubled the methane emissions rate for the Los Angeles Basin. With substantial environmental costs and several botched attempts at containment, the leak did not escape comparisons to 2010’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill as stinking clouds of methane entered the atmosphere, displacing families and businesses in the nearby community of Porter Ranch.
While it took engineers nearly four months to contain the leak, most agree that the crisis could have been averted easily, were it not for California’s outmoded regulatory approach to underground natural gas storage. Adding insult to injury, eleven months prior to the Aliso Canyon leak, the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) seems to have come to the same conclusion. In a report directed to the California Public Utilities Commission in November 2014, SoCalGas acknowledges the dozens of maintenance concerns in its aging gas storage systems, ultimately conceding that “without a new inspection plan, SoCalGas . . . could experience major failures and service interruptions from potential hazards that currently remain undetected.” Yet, despite the precarious state of its storage facilities, at the time it released its report, SoCalGas was in compliance with all California state regulations concerning underground natural gas storage. That an up-to-code facility could bear responsibility for a methane leak of unprecedented proportions suggests existing regulations warrant review.