Wells Fargo, SMUD, PG&E, Proctor & Gamble want peak-power gas supply put under Glen Elder neighborhood
by Michael Monasky
The California Public Utilities Commission will decide at a Thursday, June 21, 2012 hearing in San Francisco whether to approve an application by a firm to store eight billion cubic feet of natural gas under the Avondale-Glen Elder community in south Sacramento. A September 2009 hearing by a CPUC administrative law judge determined that the applicant, Sacramento Natural Gas Storage, had hindered some members of the public from participating in the regulatory hearing. SNGS was not fined, but has been subjected to another approval process.
A rare visit by Commissioner Catherine Sandoval on Monday culminated in a tour of the proposed project and impacted neighborhood by the affected parties, including neighbors, the applicants, city officials, and the media. The bus tour passed by the pipeline between the Sacramento Army Depot and the Proctor & Gamble gas-powered electrical co-generation plant. A compressor will be stationed at the south end of the Depot near a solar panel project. A well-head, with five to six gas wells and two water re-injection wells, will be located on Power Inn Road across from Danny Nunn Park, a water reservoir facility. Ironically, the CPUC-mandated bus tour lumbered through the affected neighborhood, which lost its Regional Transit bus service a few years ago.
The parties convened at the Coloma Community Center after the tour. They were met by a large crowd of neighbors in opposition to the project. Commissioner Sandoval asked SNGS what will keep the gas in the designated fields. Their legal staff answered that the porous sandstone holds the injected gas under pressure below 300 feet of cap rock composed of shale. When asked of the risk of leakage, the company said it was about one in two billion if subjected to an 8.8 earthquake. However, the company also admitted that safety standards required pressures less than 2500 psi. Mother nature stores natural gas at pressures of about 1700 psi. Injection pressures are about 10% higher (about 1800 psi), and industrial standards are about 30% higher (about 2200 psi).
Stephen Goldberg, of Legal Services of Northern California, spoke for the opponent residents. He said that a “risk of leak” was reported in the environmental impact report (EIR). He said that there is a seismically inactive fault line in the storage field, called the Winter's fault, that could cause gas leakage due to channels in the rock. Goldberg claimed that there is a “discrepancy between the experts,” but that “injection into the field raises the risk” of gas leakage. Shale cap rock is not impervious, he alleged, because injected gas, under pressure, can migrate sideways through the channels of the Winter's fault line, discovered in 1892. Although there is mitigation to prevent vertical migration of gas to the surface, no such measures exist to stop lateral movement of pressurized gas stored underground.
Further, the applicant admitted that there are no special regulations or procedures for gas storage under homes. Additionally, there is some concern about “stair-step” movement of gas due to failures in plugs placed in abandoned wells. Mr. Goldberg maintained that the standards are for mining gas, not for injection to store it under pressure.
Constance Slider, co-chair of the Avondale-Glen Elder Neighborhood Association, complained that homes, foundations, sidewalks, trees, fences, and ground shifted due to past gas extraction projects. There is no precedent of gas well injection under residences, she said: “We don't want to be an experiment.” Slider said that the one-third alternative energy requirement imposed upon the project was not met in the EIR. She said that if this project is approved, the California Environmental Quality Act (of 1970; CEQA) is “irrelevant.” Engineer Robert Bremault also spoke for the opponents, declaring that the SMUD/Proctor & Gamble gas-powered electrical co-generation facility can easily obtain gas from PG&E for its peak power operations. As a peak power plant, it would be the primary user of the natural gas stored under the neighborhood.