The Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety, which the federal government established in the wake of a massive gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage site near Los Angeles in late 2015, issued a report intended to help reduce the risk of future similar incidents.
The report chronicles lessons learned from the leak at the Southern California Gas Co. facility and analyzes the nation’s more than 400 underground gas storage wells, the US Department of Energy and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said as they jointly released the report on Oct. 18.
They said it provides 44 recommendations dealing with well integrity, health and environment, and energy reliability to industry, federal, state, and local regulators and governments to reduce the likelihood of future leaks and minimize the impacts of any that occur.
Officials from the American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and American Gas Association met that day with the taskforce’s co-chairs, US Energy Undersecretary for Science and Energy Franklin Orr and PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez, to discuss the report’s findings.
“No community should have to go through something like Aliso Canyon again,” Orr and Dominguez said in a joint statement. “Companies operating natural gas storage facilities should adopt the recommendations as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of future leaks.”
DOE and PHMSA launched the taskforce in early April after the Aliso Canyon storage field leak, which forced the evacuation of residents from the nearby Porter Ranch subdivision, was finally stopped after several months (OGJ Online, Apr. 4, 2016). It is consistent with requirements codified in the 2016 federal pipeline safety reauthorization act, which US President Barack Obama signed into law in late June (OGJ Online, June 23, 2016).
Built on 2015 QER recommendations
Representatives from the US Departments of Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services, and Transportation; Environmental Protection Agency; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and state and local governments made up the taskforce. Their work built on recommendations outlined in the administration’s 2015 Quadrennial Energy Review, which emphasized the urgent need to replace, expand, and modernize transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure (OGJ Online, Apr. 22, 2015).
The taskforce held three public workshops during the summer to hear from state and local stakeholders, including storage facility operators and state regulators.
Overall, the report found that while incidents at US underground gas storage facilities were rare, their potential consequences can be significant and require additional actions to ensure safe and reliable operation over the long term. It recommended that, except under limited circumstances, facility operators phase out “single point of failure” designs that contributed to the inability to swiftly control and repair the Aliso Canyon leak.
The report recommended that gas storage facility operators conduct risk assessments, develop and implement transition plans to address high-risk infrastructure, and apply robust procedures to maintain safety and reliability while the transition to modern well design standards is occurring.
INGAA, AGA back risk-based approach
INGAA and AGA officials separately expressed their support for storage safety advancements through a risk-based approach and said their associations would study the recommendations following their meeting with Orr and Dominguez. “INGAA is concerned, however, that the taskforce finalized its recommendations prior to the completion of the root-cause analysis of the Aliso Canyon storage incident,” said INGAA Pres. Donald F. Santa.
“We also are concerned by the taskforce’s recommendation that storage wells with ‘single barriers’ be transitioned to ‘double barriers.’ As written, this prescriptive recommendation could affect the majority of US gas storage wells, and adversely affect customer service and reliability,” Santa said. “Installing ‘double barriers’ is not the only approach to improve gas storage safety.”
Santa said INGAA agreed with the taskforce’s recommendation that additional data collection and input from subject-matter experts are necessary to inform future storage regulation. “We applaud the taskforce for acknowledging the value of the RP 1170 and 1171 consensus recommended practices developed by government, academia, and industry experts.”
AGA Chief Operating Officer Lori Traweek noted that nothing is more important to gas utilities keeping their customers and the communities in which they live safe. “Gas storage is fundamental to our nation’s energy use—today and into the future. Gas storage regulations must recognize this irrefutable fact,” she said. “We are pleased to see the interagency taskforce recognize that [it] cannot be discontinued or replaced without significantly compromising reliability.”
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