Environment & Science

SoCal Gas must pay $4 million for not immediately reporting Porter Ranch leak

File: A sign marking the boundary of the Aliso Canyon storage facility is pictured in Porter Ranch on Jan. 6, 2016.
File: A sign marking the boundary of the Aliso Canyon storage facility is pictured in Porter Ranch on Jan. 6, 2016.
Jonathan Alcorn/AFP/Getty Images

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SoCal Gas has reached a $4 million settlement with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, according to a statement released Tuesday by the office. It requires the utility to pay the maximum legal fine, as well as adopting additional safety measures beyond what's required by law at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.

"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 the statement.

SoCal Gas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to report the 2015 that was detected on Oct. 23. The leak led to the relocation of thousands of residents in the Porter Ranch community for months. Residents reported health symptoms including headaches, nosebleeds and nausea.

"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 D.A.'s office statement reads.

As part of the plea, SoCal Gas is being ordered to pay $307,500, which includes a $75,000 fine and a penalty of $232,500. They're also being required to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at Aliso Canyon that will cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, along with real-time pressure monitors at each gas well that is tested and certified by an outside company retained by SoCal Gas.

SoCal Gas also has to hire six full-time employees to operate and maintain the new detection systems 24 hours a day, which will cost approximately $2.25 million for the next three years, according to the statement.

The company will also have to pay $246,672.88 for the cost of the investigation and emergency response by the L.A. County Fire Department's Health and Hazardous Materials Division.

The settlement's terms have to be completed by Nov. 29, according to the statement, at which time three remaining counts against SoCal Gas will be dismissed.

In a statement, the company called the settlement, “an important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community.”

SoCal Gas still faces civil lawsuits over the leak, as well as calls for the Aliso Canyon site to be permanently closed.

Those cases include lawsuits from Los Angeles city and county, the state air resources board and the South Coast Air Quality District.

There are also investigations pending into the root cause of the well rupture from the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the Public Utilities Commission. The state attorney general has sued on behalf of state entities.

Individuals and businesses have filed 183 lawsuits against SoCal Gas, and those have been rolled into two mega-lawsuits: One to handle the claims for specific individual damages, and the other to address the class action claims for damages experienced by broad groups of people.

Attorney Paul Kiesel estimated those cases could reap tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to businesses and residents over the four months that the well poured methane uncontrolled into the atmosphere. Some residents claim they still experience health problems due to the natural gas release and other material that came out of the ruptured well.

SoCal Gas has already spent more than $700 million on the well blowout, mostly to stop the leak and house residents outside the area. The company doesn’t publicly estimate what it could end up spending to settle.

Correction: An earlier version of this story characterized the leak as having erupted on Oct. 23, 2015. In actually, the leak was detected on that date.