July 20 (UPI) -- A natural gas operation near Los Angeles that leaked methane for several months in 2015 is safe to reopen at a reduced capacity, California regulators said.
"Following months of rigorous inspection and analysis of wells at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility - and the implementation of multiple new safety protocols - state engineering and safety enforcement experts have concluded the facility is safe to operate and can reopen at a greatly reduced capacity in order to protect public safety and prevent an energy shortage in Southern California," a joint statement from the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission read.
The site near Los Angeles leaked methane from late October 2015 to early 2016 following a blowout. Residents in the area were forced to relocate to temporary housing while state, federal and the Southern California Gas Co. worked to control the leak.
The faulty well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility was permanently sealed with cement and taken out of service in mid-February 2016. The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said earlier this year it was considering reopening the site, but capped its capacity at about 20 percent less than SoCalGas requested.
Advocacy group Food & Water Watch said the California government was reckless in its decision to reopen the facility, arguing Aliso Canyon was no longer a necessary component of the regional energy sector.
"Nothing short of the immediate shut down of Aliso Canyon will protect residents from harm caused by this facility," Alexandra Nagy of Food & Water Watch said in a statement.
The group said California Gov. Jerry Brown has ties to the parent of SoCalGas.
California state officials said the facility will reopen under the strictest safety requirements in the country and hold only enough gas to ensure supplies are adequate for the surrounding Los Angeles area.
"The extensive testing, retrofits and new safety measures ensure the wells are in sound operating condition today," Ken Harris, the state oil and gas supervisor, said.