Aliso Canyon review 'expected' in early 2017

Facility was shut in October 2015 after massive leak forced evacuation of thousands

California agencies expect to complete their safety review of Southern California Gas' (SoCal) Aliso Canyon in early 2017, preventing the utility from injecting natural gas into the Los Angeles storage facility for at least the first half of winter.

SoCal shut the facility in October 2015 after a massive leak forced the evacuation of thousands in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles.

In past years, the facility, which is the largest in the state, provided much of the fuel used to keep the region's homes and businesses warm in the winter and fuel power generators and refineries.

The California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) said its review of SoCal's safety tests at the facility required "significant time, effort, and additional data from (the utility), and will not be complete before the end of 2016."

"With safety as our top priority," DOGGR said it will set a meeting once it completed the safety review sometime in early 2017. The division said it will give interested parties at least 15 days notice of the meeting.

Several local groups have called for the facility to be permanently shut.

Officials at Sempra Energy, which owns SoCal, were not immediately available for comment.

SoCal sought state permission to re-inject gas into Aliso Canyon on 1 November.

DOGGR said on its website that 31 of the 114 wells at the site passed all of the state's safety tests, making them fit for gas re-injection if the agency grants permission. The balance remain temporarily sealed.

Before the leak, Aliso Canyon was able to deliver almost 1.9 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day. SoCal has not said how much gas it may be able to withdraw from the wells that passed the tests.

SoCal cannot inject fuel into the field until DOGGR and the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) confirm the field is safe.

The leak was discovered on 23 October 2015, and not plugged until February. The California Air Resources Board said last month it was the biggest methane leak in state history.

The state required SoCal to keep 15 bcf of gas in the 86-bcf facility to minimize risk of gas shortages that could result in electricity outages. The PUC required the utility to be able to withdraw 207 million cubic feet per day of gas for this purpose.