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State regulators this week cleared the way for natural gas injections to resume at the Aliso Canyon storage facility that has been largely out of service since a four-month leak in 2015-16, but the facility will be operated in a limited fashion primarily to prevent Southland energy shortages.

The state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission determined that with new safety protocols in place, the facility is “safe to operate and can reopen at a greatly reduced capacity.”

“In order to protect public safety and the environment, this facility will be held to the most rigorous monitoring, inspection and safety requirements in the nation and will store only the minimum gas necessary to supply the Los Angeles area,” said Ken Harris, DOGGR oil and gas supervisor.

“The extensive testing, retrofits and new safety measures ensure the wells are in sound operating condition today.”

CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan said the facility will be restricted to about 28 percent of its operating capacity, “just enough to avoid energy disruptions in the Los Angeles area.”

Concerns have been raised in the months since the leak about the possibility of electrical shortages due to the lack of natural gas from the Porter Ranch-area facility to operate power plants.

The decision to resume operations at the site is not going over well with opponents. Food and Water Watch, an environmental watchdog group, said the decision effectively ignores requirements set forth by the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Health, and the County Fire Department in urging a root-cause analysis, and health and seismic studies. They also say the move minimizes the concerns of residents who are still battling serious health issues resulting from the months-long leak of carcinogenic compounds into the air.

“SoCalGas and state agencies have failed to prove that the Aliso Canyon facility is necessary to provide a reliable source of energy for the Los Angeles Basin,” said Alexandra Nagy of Food & Water Watch. They fault Gov. Jerry Brown for allowing SoCalGas to reopen the facility when it remains unclear if leaks, accidents and spills will reemerge in the future. “Gov. Brown’s administration is recklessly allowing this facility to reopen without addressing what caused the blowout, the seismic risk to the facility or the long-term health effects of this gas field near densely populated areas. Nothing short of the immediate shut down of Aliso Canyon will protect residents from harm caused by this facilty.”

Critics of the facility have said the concern about a shortage of electrical power was being raised by Southern California Gas Co. as a scare tactic to pressure regulators into allowing Aliso Canyon to resume operating. SoCalGas officials vehemently denied the accusations.

“Aliso Canyon is an important part of Southern California’s energy system, supporting the reliability of natural gas and electricity services for millions of people,” according to the Gas Co. “SoCalGas has m— and in many cases, exceeded—the rigorous requirements of the state’s comprehensive safety review.”

The Aliso Canyon storage facility has been largely out of use since the four-month leak spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 Porter Ranch-area residents. The leak began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016.

Many residents, along with area elected officials, have been pushing to stall the reopening of the facility until an investigation is completed into the root cause of the leak. However, a bill that would have mandated such a delay failed in the state Legislature. Many residents have called for the storage facility to be taken out of operation entirely.

According to CPUC and DOGGR, the investigation into the cause of the leak is continuing.

Meanwhile, the agencies noted that about 60 percent of the facility’s 114 wells have been taken out of operation and isolated. The remaining wells underwent extensive testing and retrofitting, with all equipped with real-time pressure monitors and new steel tubing and seals, officials said. New requirements also mandate routine aerial monitoring of the facility to detect any methane leaks.

The wells have also been outfitted with steel inner tubing, and the plant will have to operate at a pressure level of 2,926 pounds per square inch, down from 3,600 PSI.

SoCalGas officials said the company will also have around-the-clock pressure monitoring, four-times-daily patrols to examine every well and scanning of the wells using infrared thermal imaging cameras.

“Injection will not resume immediately,” according to SoCalGas. “”State agencies have outlined steps that must be completed before injections can resume, including a leak survey of the facility and a flyover to measure methane emissions at the site.

“We are committed to maintaining a transparent and open dialogue with the communities near Aliso Canyon and will provide regular updates on our progress at www.socalgas.com/alisoupdates.”