SoCalGas Fined $4 Million for Methane Leak

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — SoCalGas will pay $4 million to settle criminal charges with Los Angeles County over a massive 2015 methane leak and include safeguards to help prevent another leak at the site.
     District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office said the settlement with the utility company is the “maximum fine authorized by law.” The settlement comes after the company pleaded no contest in a Santa Clarita courthouse to one misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the Oct. 23, 2015 gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to regulators.
     The leak took more than 100 days to seal and shut down, displacing thousands of people in the nearby Porter Ranch suburban community. One hundred thousand tons of the potent greenhouse gas spewed into the environment before the company plugged the leak.
     Lacey filed criminal charges against SoCalGas earlier this year, including three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous pollution and one count of discharging air contaminants.
     “This agreement ensures that Southern California Gas Co. is held accountable for its criminal actions for failing to immediately report the leak,” Lacey said in prepared statement.
     “Our office has helped bring the Aliso Canyon facility into compliance, keeping in mind that public safety is of the upmost importance,” the prosecutor said. “Going forward the protections put in place by this agreement create a safer facility for its employees, the environment and the surrounding communities.”
     In a statement, SoCalGas confirmed it had pleaded no contest for failing to timely report the natural gas leak to the California Office of Emergency Services and the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and said the remaining charges would be dropped.
     “Today’s agreement, which provides for the implementation of certain approved operational enhancements including updated notification, monitoring, and training procedures, is another important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community. These are in addition to other enhancements that have already been instituted by the company,” the company said.
     The court will order SoCalGas to pay $307,500, including a maximum fine of $75,000 and a penalty assessment of $232,500. Under the terms of the agreement, the company will pay $246,672.88 in investigatory and emergency response costs.
     New safety measures include an infrared methane monitoring system that will cost between $1.2 and $1.5 million, Lacey’s office said.
     “Real-time pressure monitors also will be placed at each gas well as required by the state. The settlement requires that an outside company be retained to test and certify that both systems are working properly,” the DA said.
     SoCalGas will hire six full-time employees to manage the monitoring system around the clock at cost of $2.35 million over the next three years, according to Lacey’s office.
     The parties will finalize the terms of the settlement by Nov. 29. The company faces dozens of civil lawsuits and Lacey’s office says that the settlement will not resolve pending civil litigation.
     “With this conviction, the company is on notice and could face a more serious criminal penalty in the future if the same unlawful conduct occurs,” the DA said.

%d bloggers like this: