L.A. County Tries to Stop Another Gas Disaster

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles County on Monday asked the Superior Court to order Southern California Gas Co. to install subsurface safety valves on its wells to avoid a repeat of the massive gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility.
     SoCalGas discovered a ruptured gas well at its Aliso Canyon storage field on Oct. 23 last year, which it took more than 100 days to seal and shut down. The leak displaced thousands of people in the nearby Porter Ranch community.
     One hundred thousand tons of the potent greenhouse gas spewed into the environment before the leak was plugged.
     In its complaint of a public nuisance, the county says that SoCalGas, the largest natural gas distributor in the country, has aging infrastructure that puts the public at risk of another “disastrous gas leak.”
     SoCalGas, which operates 200 natural gas wells at storage fields at Aliso, Playa Del Rey, Honor Rancho-Santa Clarita and Montebello, has a duty to ensure that it runs its fields safely but has “failed and continues to fail to live up to that duty,” the county says.
     “It puts corporate profits before public safety and fails to make necessary repairs and improvements to its decades-old gas system,” and there is an “ongoing and impending risk” of leaks at Aliso and the company’s other gas fields according to the complaint.
     The gas wells at the storage fields are an average of 50 years old, the county says, and some were built more than 80 years ago.
     The ruptured well at Aliso was built in 1979 and the utility knew that the subsurface well was damaged and need to be repaired, the county says. But despite the “relatively minimal” cost of replacing or repairing the valve the company decided to leave to the aging well “vulnerable to the catastrophic leak.”
     SoCalGas knows it needs to install new subsurface valves to avoid leaks but delayed repairs to its aging infrastructure because it hoped to pass on the cost of a $236 million repair program to customers through higher rates, the county says.
     “Given the aging infrastructure and inadequate safety measures employed by SoCalGas, the risk of another gas leak occurring is great and poses a monumental risk to the residents of Los Angeles County,” the lawsuit states. “This nuisance should be addressed and abated now.”
     SoCalGas is owned by Sempra energy, which reports about $10 billion in annual revenue. For that reason “SoCalGas has the ability to make safe all of its gas wells in the county,” the county says.
     The county seeks a court order for abatement of a public nuisance, by modernizing its wells and distribution pipelines, and punitive damages for public nuisance, unfair competition, breach of franchise agreement, breach of lease and violations of county codes.
     The county is represented by Louis “Skip” Miller with Miller Barondess.
     Sempra did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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