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Aliso Canyon Cleared To Reopen By State Regulators

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On Wednesday, state regulators cleared the way for the reopening of the notorious Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, which was home to the largest accidental methane leak in U.S. history. The state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that the facility is safe "to operate and can reopen at a greatly reduced capacity.''

The facility, which is operated by Southern California Gas Co., is located in northwest San Fernando Valley near Porter Ranch. It was home to a massive natural gas leak beginning in October 2015 that forced thousands out of their homes and spewed 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air. The incident sickened many residents and "effectively doubl[ed] the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin," according to the L.A. Times. Governor Brown declared a state of emergency over the leak in January 2016. The leak was capped in February 2016, and the facility has been largely out of use since. The Daily News reports that activists have been working for more than a year to try and permanently shut down the gas wells.

Wednesday's decision from the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources will clear the way for the storage facility to reopen in a limited capacity. City News Service reports that it will be restricted to about 28% of its operating capacity, or "just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area," according to California Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Timothy Sullivan.

"While I am disappointed in the State's decision to resume operations at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage facility, I am encouraged that the CA Energy Commission will proceed with a plan to permanently close the facility within ten years," L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents many communities affected by the leak, said in a statement Wednesday evening. "The gas leak of 2015-16 was the largest in our nation's history and showed the danger of operating such facilities near residential areas. And while State regulatory agencies have taken steps to improve safety at the facility, the only way to ensure that history does not repeat itself is through permanent closure of the facility."

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County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also expressed her disappointment over the reopening. "The facility should remain closed until the root cause analysis and energy reliability study are completed and the health concerns of our impacted residents are fully addressed to the satisfaction of county health officials," she said in a statement.