Two years ago, on February 11, 2016, the methane leak from California’s largest underground gas storage (UGS) facility at Aliso Canyon was finally stopped after drilling a relief well, but not before the leaking SS-25 well had gushed approximately 100,000 tons of methane over nearly four months. At the time, Berkeley Lab scientists used computer simulations of flow in the complex well geometry to evaluate how to best plug the leaking well by injecting it with heavy fluids. This Aliso Canyon incident, and the impacts it had on the Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles, raised the visibility of UGS in California and across the nation.
Today, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), a nonprofit organization that provides expert advice from California’s scientists and research institutions on public policy issues involving science and technology, released a report on the safety and reliability of all of California’s underground natural gas storage fields. The report, “Long-Term Viability of Underground Natural Gas Storage in California: An Independent Review of Scientific and Technical Information,” was compiled in response to a request made by Gov. Brown in the wake of the 2015 Aliso Canyon incident, the largest methane leak in U.S. history. Modeled after the National Research Council, which responds to the United States government, CCST responds to requests from California’s State Legislature, the Governor, and State entities, and provides expert advice from California’s scientists and research institutions on public policy issues involving science and technology.
The report provides insight into the question on the minds of many Californians following the extreme event: What are the risks of storing natural gas underground and should we – or could we – reduce our dependence on natural gas storage?
Berkeley Lab senior scientist Jens Birkholzer co-chaired a 12-member CCST Report Steering Committee which supervised the report’s 21 authors whose expertise spans hydrogeology and engineering, risk assessment, public and occupational health, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy analysis and economics. Berkeley Lab’s Curt Oldenburg and Jeff Greenblatt served as lead authors on report chapter 1 on the risks posed by UGS to health, safety, environment, and infrastructure, and chapter 3 on the role of UGS in California’s energy future, respectively. The 1,000-page report was subject to a comprehensive independent peer-review process.
Birkholzer believes that without such exhaustive analysis, it would have been difficult for the report’s authors to generate conclusions and recommendations that sufficiently take into account both the widespread extent to which California depends on natural gas and the potential for mitigating the risks that come with storing it underground. He shared his thoughts on the key takeaways from the report prior to taking part in a briefing at California’s state capitol building in Sacramento today.