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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Homeowners Want Sempra to Buy Them Out

LOS ANGELES (CN) - An enormous, stinky leak of methane gas that's forced nearly 1,900 L.A.-area residents to flee their neighborhood has brought a class action complaint from homeowners who want Southern California Gas to buy their homes.

Los Angeles sued SCE on Dec. 7, after homeowners filed the first class action in late November.

The new plaintiffs, led by Edward Lee, claims the homes have become unlivable and should be condemned at the power company's expense. SCE is a branch of co-defendant Sempra energy.

The enormous leak was detected on Oct. 23 and could take as long as four months to fix.

Millions of cubic feet of methane and other toxic chemicals, including benzene, have leaked from a natural gas well at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon storage field - north of the Porter Ranch neighborhood in the northwest San Fernando Valley. Residents have suffered headaches, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and nausea.

Half a dozen state, county and city departments have been monitoring and working on the site. Los Angeles media reported this week that the gas leak is so overwhelming that pilots have been warned not to fly over the area, for fear their engines might set the gas alight.

"Residents in the area surrounding the leak and their homes have been exposed to methane gas, odorants, and other dangerous chemicals such as benzene, a chemical associated with bone marrow deterioration and anemia. According to the Air Resources Board, natural gas is about 80 percent methane, 'a powerful greenhouse gas,'" the Dec. 11 lawsuit.

The energy companies plan to drill a deep relief well to intercept the leak and plug it. But the utilities have not guaranteed that will be successful, the plaintiffs say, and meanwhile 50,000 to 100,000 pounds of methane are being released into the air every hour.

"Defendants continue to recklessly deny the risk posed by the massive leak brazenly declaring - 'We regret that the smell of the odorant in natural gas is unpleasant and that some people are sensitive to the odor, and we sincerely apologize for the annoyance and concern this odor is causing the neighboring communities. However, the leak does not pose an imminent threat to public safety,'" the complaint states.

Los Angeles County has declared a state of emergency. City Councilman Mitchell Englander on Tuesday moved that the city support the county's declaration and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to classify it as a local emergency.

"Due to the mass relocation of residents, short term health effects experienced and the poor air quality in the vicinity of the gas leak, compounded by the uncertainty as to when a solution will be reached, it is imperative that the governor step in and declare a local emergency so this community can receive the resources it needs," Englander said.

SoCalGas is offering to temporarily Porter Ranch residents. Englander's office said the company had received 3,948 inquiries as of Monday, and that 1,883 families have been relocated, another 1,433 are in the process and another 149 had yet to be contacted.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed. This one appears to be the first that seeks inverse condemnation.

SoCalGas said on its website: "We have assembled a world-class team of experts, and we are working as quickly as safety will allow to stop the leak." the statement adds.

The new plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Alberstone, with Baron & Budd, in Encino.

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