Judge OKs $120 Million Deal Over Massive Methane Leak

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2015, file pool photo, crews work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles. (Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A state court judge in Los Angeles approved a deal Monday in which Southern California Gas Company will pay $120 million to state and local agencies over the 2015 Aliso Canyon methane gas blowout that forced thousands of residents to flee their homes.

Under the consent decree, the utility company will pay $25 million for a health study and for monitoring of the Porter Ranch community and the natural gas storage site.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl signed off on the decree but said the court’s actual role in the agreement was limited because the terms were reached out of court.

The agreement does not affect the hundreds of claims brought by residents forced to flee their homes as over 100,000 tons of methane poured out from the Aliso Canyon facility.

A portion of the $120 million agreement will go toward capturing methane expelled by dairy farms as mitigation of what was released during the blowout, but Earthjustice and other environmental groups argue this gives SoCal Gas a chance to take credit for reduction efforts that are paid in part by state funding.

Attorney Byron Chan with Earthjustice said the agreement is a missed opportunity, because it could have moved California away from relying on natural gas and toward other means of power generation to combat climate change.

“It’s a real lost opportunity and disregards the harm the community suffered,” said Chan.

Residents are not optimistic SoCal Gas will be held liable for all the harm from the blowout.

For months before the blowout was confirmed by SoCal Gas, residents complained of nose bleeds and headaches. The utility finally confirmed the leak in October 2015, and work to cap the well was finished in February 2016.

Lori Aivazian, a 20-year resident of Porter Ranch, lives about 2 miles from the storage site. The blowout forced from her home for five months.

“We were all very sick during the blowout,” said Aivazian during a press conference outside the courthouse. “I don’t think there could ever be any kind of settlement that would make up for what I suffered due to that facility blowing up.”

She added: “I would love to see people go to jail. There is criminal negligence that has been going on at that facility for years.”

The individual lawsuits continue to be coordinated in court and include anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 plaintiffs, according to attorneys.

Along with health damages, homeowners also seek damages for the hit the blowout caused to their property values. But SoCal Gas attorney David Schrader with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius said the utility will argue it can’t be held liable for that kind of damage.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Raymond Boucher, said residents also intend to demand the gas storage site be declared a permanent nuisance.

Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court will also take up a component of the Aliso Canyon case during oral arguments in March, when the justices consider whether someone harmed by a manmade environmental disaster can bring negligence claims when the loss they suffered was purely economic.

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