Federal Agency Issues Natural Gas Storage Safety Regulations
Sherman Oaks, CA – Following through on a promise made by President Barack Obama to Congressman Brad Sherman last January, PHMSA, the relevant federal agency, issued a proposed Interim Final Regulation which will become binding on the industry before January 20, 2017.
Congressman Sherman, who lives in Porter Ranch, about as close as anyone to the site of the world’s largest natural gas leak said:
“Never again should any community in America face what we faced in Porter Ranch.
“This proposed regulation is a major step forward in preventing future massive leaks from underground natural gas storage facilities. This isn’t partisan, and the Trump Administration should enforce this regulation vigorously. The regulation is based on the recommendations of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group that usually sides with Republicans on regulatory issues.
“For the first time, natural gas storage facilities will be subject to federal standards and inspections. Also, for the first time, violators will be subject to federal civil and criminal penalties, and possible shut-down. The Porter Ranch leak, which spanned from October 23, 2015 to February 18, 2016, showed that leaks at natural gas storage facilities could pose a health risk for tens of thousands of local residents while emitting nearly 5.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas which predominantly consists of methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
“PHMSA has stated that this regulation is a “first step” and will be followed by additional regulations. Future regulations should: (1) require that natural gas is injected and withdrawn only through the interior tubing, not through the casing; (2) require surface and sub-surface shut-off valves; and (3) require that no region of the country is dependent on a single too-big-to-fail style natural gas storage facility.”
See the complete regulation here.
See PHMSA press release here.
From October 23, 2015 to February 18, 2016, the northern Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch suffered from the largest methane gas leak in world history. More than 7,000 families were displaced from their homes and forced to relocate. Two schools in the area were closed for the duration of the school year.
Using the Tubing, Not Casing
Rather than allowing natural gas to travel through both the interior and exterior casing of pipelines where a single corrosion or crack can lead to a leak, there should be stronger standards for well construction. PHMSA should require that tubing be used for all injections and removal of natural gas. This means that natural gas would only be permitted to travel through the interior casing of pipelines, creating a double barrier system.
Safety Shut-Off Valves
The leaking well, known as SS25, was drilled in the early 1950s and was not subject to sophisticated testing thereafter. In the 1950s, the well had a subsurface safety valve, which was removed in 1979 and never replaced. PHMSA should require both a deep sub-surface positive pressure safety valve and a surface safety valve on every well.
A sub-surface safety valve is needed because a rupture in the tube or casing somewhere along the length of the well may not allow it to be shut off by a valve located at the surface of the well. Every well should also have a safety valve at the surface. That way, if the sub-surface safety valve does not work, at least the valve could be closed at the top.
Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Exist
No one gas storage facility should be so large that its closure would adversely affect the statewide economy or cause a significant portion of the nation to be without heating, cooling, or electricity.
Never again should the residents of Porter Ranch or any other community be told that an impaired natural gas storage facility cannot be shut down without risking the reliability of utility service to hundreds of thousands of other residents.
We should mandate that when any metropolitan area like Los Angeles is too reliant on one facility for all of its power, other facilities must be developed.
 Design and Operation of Solution-mined Salt Caverns Used for Natural Gas Storage, July 2015; Functional Integrity of Natural Gas Storage in Depleted Hydrocarbon Reservoirs and Aquifer Reservoirs, September 2015