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Drilling rigs not ‘fracking’

Utility: Representative says operation is focused on increasing storage for natural gas for region

Posted: July 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2011 1:57 a.m.

Despite concerns raised online and in local media reports over implications of the gas company’s stepped-up drilling near Interstate 5, no hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is taking place there, a SoCalGas spokeswoman said.

“At SoCalGas’ Honor Rancho facility, our current project involves drilling injection and withdrawal wells to increase the storage capacity of our underground storage reservoir,” spokeswoman Denise King said Friday.

“Our drilling operations do not involve fracking.”

The drilling is occurring north and west of Newhall Ranch Road and Rye Canyon Road on land still referred to as “Honor Rancho” property.

Hydraulic fracturing is a way to crack rock or very dense soil, such as clay, deep below ground level, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

There are three common ways to do this, the agency said, and hydraulic fracturing is one of them.

In that process, water is pumped under pressure into holes drilled in the ground.

The force of the water causes the soil (or sometimes rock) to crack. It also causes existing fractures to grow larger.

To fracture soil at greater depths, sand is pumped underground with the water, the agency says. The sand helps prop the fractures open and keep them from closing under the weight of the soil.

Concerns voiced locally that drilling west of the Walmart store on Rye Canyon Road might involve fracking echo similar environmental concerns heard across the nation that contaminants might enter water resources deep underground and that greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, might be released into the air.

Over the next three years, the gas company wants to boost production and storage of natural gas from about 2,000 barrels daily on a good day to “4,500 barrels per day on a continuous basis for several years,” state documents say.

In 2009, the gas company applied to the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to expand its gas-making operation on land it purchased from Texaco.

The Honor Rancho land is primarily a place to store natural gas, making it more economical for the gas company to distribute its product in densely populated Southern California.

“SoCalGas purchases most of its natural gas supplies from out-of-state sources,” King said. “We store natural gas more than a mile beneath the surface in porous sandstone, which is capped by solid rock.

“Our storage facility plays an important role, particularly during the high winter demand periods when customers are using natural gas for heating,” she said.

“We are able to supplement supplies coming in from out of state sources with the natural gas we pull out of our underground storage facilities.”

SoCalGas has 41 wells on the sprawling Honor Rancho site, including 23 wells that once produced oil for Texaco and an additional 18 wells drilled with its rigs.

Drilling history
The gas company, through its San Diego-based parent company Sempra Energies, acquired the Honor Rancho facility from Texaco in 1975 and converted it into a natural-gas storage facility.

About two miles away from the confluence of Castaic Creek and the Santa Clara River, the facility’s sprawling 600 grassy acres remain closed to the public.

Over the past 30 years, it has boosted its “working inventory capacity” from 17.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas to 23 billion cubic feet at the site.


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