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(Reuters) - California agencies expect to complete their safety review of Southern California Gas' (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon in early 2017, preventing the utility from injecting natural gas into the Los Angeles storage facility for at least the first half of winter.
SoCalGas shut the facility in October 2015 after a massive leak forced the evacuation of thousands in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles.
In past years, the facility, which is the largest in the state, provided much of the fuel used to keep the region's homes and businesses warm in the winter and fuel power generators and refineries.
The California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) said its review of SoCalGas' safety tests at the facility required "significant time, effort, and additional data from (the utility), and will not be complete before the end of 2016."
"With safety as our top priority," DOGGR said it will set a meeting once it completed the safety review sometime in early 2017. The division said it will give interested parties at least 15 days' notice of the meeting.
Several local groups have called on the state to shut the facility, claiming it is not safe to operate.
Officials at Sempra Energy, which owns SoCalGas, were not immediately available for comment.
SoCalGas sought state permission to re-inject gas into the facility on Nov. 1 to rebuild supplies before the winter heating season.
California agencies have said in a report that SoCalGas could have a tough time meeting a forecast peak demand of 5.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on the coldest days this winter without Aliso Canyon.
The state required SoCalGas to keep 15 bcf in the 86-bcf facility to minimize risk of gas shortages that could result in electricity outages.
But that may not be enough to prevent the utility from curtailing supplies to power plants and other industrial facilities, like refineries, according to the state reports.
Those reports showed that in past years SoCalGas has pulled gas from Aliso Canyon on an almost daily basis during the coldest winter months to meet demand.
DOGGR said on its website that 31 of the 114 wells at the site passed all safety tests. The balance remain temporarily sealed.
Before the leak, Aliso Canyon was able to deliver almost 1.9 bcfd. But, SoCalGas has not said how much it may be able to withdraw from wells that passed tests.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy and James Dalgleish