Natural Gas Storage Facility Report Calls for Risk Management, Planning Changes

The document recommends that natural 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 as the transition to modern well design standards is occurring.

The federal Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety released a report last week with well integrity, safety, and environmental protection recommendations for avoiding leaks like last year's massive natural gas leak at California's Aliso Canyon site. The report chronicles lessons learned from that leak and analyzes the more than 400 underground natural gas storage wells in the United States, with 44 recommendations for industry and federal, state, and local regulators and governments to reduce the likelihood of future leaks and minimize any leak that occurs.

Overall, the report says, "while incidents at U.S. underground natural gas storage facilities are rare, the potential consequences of those incidents can be significant and require additional actions to ensure safe and reliable operation over the long term." It recommends 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 document recommends that natural 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 as the transition to modern well design standards is occurring.

The task force was co-chaired by Franklin Orr, under secretary for Science and Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and Marie Therese Dominguez, administrator of DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. "Natural gas plays an important role in our nation's energy landscape, and we need to make sure the associated infrastructure is strong enough to maintain energy reliability, protect public health, and preserve our environment. No community should have to go through something like Aliso Canyon again. Companies operating natural gas storage facilities should adopt the recommendations as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of future leaks," they said; both Orr and Dominguez visited the site of the Aliso Canyon leak shortly after it was controlled.

The task force pursued three primary areas of study: integrity of wells at natural gas storage facilities, public health and environmental effects from natural gas storage leaks, and energy reliability concerns in the case of future leaks. It held three public workshops this year to hear from local and state stakeholders, including gas storage operators and state regulators.

DOE reported that PHMSA plans to issue interim regulations regarding underground natural gas storage in the next few months, regs that incorporate API Recommended Practices 1170 and 1171, but the new report is intended to inform PHMSA's phased rulemaking process and to provide guidance to industry so that companies can begin implementing changes immediately.

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