Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 10, 2016

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364,

Documents Show Massive Regulatory Failures at L.A. Gas Storage Facility

California Oil Officials Retroactively Approved Decades-old Work,
Declined to Witness Leak Tests at Playa Del Rey Wells

LOS ANGELES— As California lawmakers hold hearings on the safety and reliability of gas-storage facilities, a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that state oil and gas regulators have a decades-long pattern of failing to enforce basic rules and oversee safety tests and other critical activities at the leak-prone Playa del Rey gas-storage facility in Los Angeles.

Records show that the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, retroactively approved decades-old well conversion projects in Playa del Rey that had not been reported. Regulators also declined to witness dozens of blowout-prevention equipment and pressure tests and other important procedures in the field, which is operated by SoCalGas. Called to witness efforts to repair a leaking well, a state official responded “let the Division know how the job went.”

Playa del Rey, California’s oldest gas-storage field, is located a few hundred feet from homes and has suffered at least a dozen leaks and a significant fire. Some wells in the field are located right next to homes and a baseball diamond.

As lawmakers and state officials discuss new gas-storage rules, the Center’s analysis raises questions about how effective fresh attempts at regulation would be.

“What good are new gas-storage rules when state oil regulators have failed for decades to enforce regulations already on the books?” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an L.A.-based attorney with the Center. “Every person living near the leak-prone Playa del Rey facility is at risk because state officials can’t even bother to monitor and verify crucial safety tests in these 80-year-old wells. Our dysfunctional oil agency seems to feel no obligation to enforce the law or oversee the industry’s risky activities.”

Documents also show that acidizing has been used in at least three wells in Playa del Rey, including in a well right next to a house. Acidizing typically involves pouring large amounts of hydrofluoric or hydrochloric acid — dangerously powerful solvents — into a well to remove deposits on surfaces inside the well or release trapped gas in the formation.

The Center’s analysis of well records uncovered the following regulatory failures at the Playa Del Rey gas-storage field:

  • Waived inspections of safety tests: Well records show 44 instances of oil regulators declining to witness safety tests or other important operations in Playa del Rey. These waivers occurred even when a well had a history of problems.

Waivers were recorded as early as 1978 and continued through 2014. DOGGR declined to witness a range of important procedures, including tests of blowout prevention equipment, cementing operations and pressure and casing tests aimed at detecting or preventing leaks.

  • Retroactive approval of decade-old well work: Last August oil officials retroactively approved work on six Playa del Rey wells that the operator had done more than a decade before without notifying state regulators. SoCalGas apparently converted these wells from gas storage to production in 2002 and 2004 but did not tell DOGGR about the work until 2015, after the agency began belatedly demanding long-overdue required pressure tests for 19 wells in the field. Standard Annual Pressure Tests, or SAPTs, have been required every five years for gas storage wells, but these documents suggest they had not been done for about 13 years on these wells. 
  • Missing pressure tests: In March 2015 email, DOGGR notified SoCalGas that 19 wells were delinquent on SAPTs (annular pressure tests aimed at finding leaks). DOGGR gave SoCalGas a full year to come into compliance.

The analysis also uncovered the following disturbing facts about the Playa del Rey field:

  • Critical wells near homes: At least seven of the 25 gas storage wells in this field are designated by the state as “critical wells” because they are located within 300 feet of a residence or close to roadways. Some are right behind homes or against the edge of a baseball diamond. Other wells appear to be just outside the 300-foot range for critical designation.
  • Gas leaks: Well records for this field show at least 12 gas leaks. “Stewart 1,” API 03727000, had at least 5 leaks in 2011 and 2012. Another well, API 03713999, which is just across the street from a home, had leaks in 1975, 1981, 1983 and 1984.
  • Median age of wells is 81 years: The average date the active or idle gas storage wells in this field were drilled is 1945. The median drill date is 1935. All but five of these 25 wells were drilled in 1935 or 1936; the median age of the wells is more than 80 years.
  • Acidizing near homes: Wells acidized at Playa include these APIs: 03714072, 03714003, 03714062. Operators frequently use acidizing and fracking in gas storage wells, according to the California Council on Science and Technology, the American Petroleum Institute, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Oil companies use dozens of extremely hazardous chemicals to acidize wells in California, raising water contamination and public-safety concerns, according to a recent study in the Journal of Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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