Task Force Issues Recommendations to Increase Safety and Reliability of U.S. Natural Gas Storage

U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, October 19, 2016

The Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety, established in the wake of last year's massive natural gas leak at California's Aliso Canyon site, has issued a new report intended to help reduce the risk of future such incidents. The report chronicles lessons learned from the Aliso Canyon leak and analyzes the nation's more than 400 underground natural gas storage wells. It provides 44 recommendations to industry, federal, state, and local regulators and governments to reduce the likelihood of future leaks and minimize the impacts of any that occur.

Overall, the report finds that "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." In particular, the report 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 report recommends 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 while 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 (DOE); and Marie Therese Dominguez, Administrator of the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

"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," said Orr and Dominguez, who both visited the site of the Aliso Canyon leak shortly after it was controlled. "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."

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. Three public workshops were held throughout the summer to hear from local and state level stakeholders, including gas storage operators and state regulators. These activities helped to inform the report released today.

The report's 44 recommendations are separated across the three areas of study and are summarized in a fact sheet available HERE.

After providing Administration-wide support to the state response effort, in early 2016, the White House convened the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety following the nation's largest ever natural gas leak at California's Aliso Canyon facility. This task force is consistent with the requirements codified by Congress in the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2016, signed into law by President Obama in June 2016. The legislation created a task force led by the Secretary of Energy that consists of representatives from the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and from state and local governments. The work of the task force builds on the 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.

Natural gas provides heat to millions of American homes and is expected to provide one-third of our nation's total electric power generation this year. Gas storage facilities are key components of a large and complex natural gas delivery infrastructure serving homes, offices, power plants, and industrial facilities. As noted in the report, there are approximately 400 active underground natural gas storage wells operating in 25 states of which, about 80 percent were constructed before 1980. Older wells are more likely to have "single point of failure" designs, which offer less protection against leaks compared to more modern designs.

PHMSA plans to issue interim regulations regarding underground natural gas storage in the coming months, incorporating API Recommended Practices 1170 and 1171. The Task Force's report is intended to inform PHMSA's phased rule-making process and to provide guidance to industry so that companies can begin implementing changes immediately.

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