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Los Angeles Sues SoCalGas Over Storage Well Leak

The Los Angeles city attorney on Monday filed a lawsuit against Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) for its handling of a seven-week-old underground natural gas storage well leak that has no end in sight (see Daily GPIDec. 3).

The 13-page complaint alleges the utility engaged in unlawful business practices leading up to the incident.

City Attorney Mike Feuer called the leak at the 86 Bcf Aliso Canyon storage field on the far northern edge of the city's San Fernando Valley "an ongoing public health emergency." Earlier in the nearly two-month-old saga the South Coast Air Quality Management District cited SoCalGas for creating a public nuisance in response to a reported 1,300 complaints from nearby residents in the Porter Ranch development about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

"No community should have to endure what Porter Ranch residents have suffered from the gas company's failure to stop the Aliso Canyon gas leak," said Feuer. The lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in Los Angeles alleges that the situation "should have been avoided and would have if SoCalGas had properly planned for such an event."

SoCalGas contends that it took immediate steps to stop the leak, and to inform local and state regulators and residents. A spokesperson reiterated what the utility has been saying for weeks -- namely, that it has "the same urgency and our highest priority is to safely stop the leak."

In the face of growing concerns about the volumes of methane being leaked in the midst of heightened climate change efforts, SoCalGas also said that it is not possible now to accurately measure the lost gas volumes and that any estimates are "premature and speculative."

Along with seeking to impose civil penalties on the nation's largest gas-only utility, the lawsuit seeks court-mandated steps to:

  • Complete repairs as quickly as possible;
  • Make sure the causes of the leak and "the inordinate delay in fixing it" are fully understood;
  • Put in place plans to prevent a recurrence of this type of event;
  • Address "systemic deficiencies" in the operation of all underground storage field wells at Aliso and SoCalGas' other facilities; and
  • Address the consequence of emissions of "massive volumes" of greenhouse gas from the Aliso incident.

"The failure of the well should never have happened," Feuer said in the court complaint. "The incredible duration of the crisis should have been avoided, and would have been avoided had SoCalGas established and promptly implemented appropriate contingency plans for such an event."

Instead, the city official alleges that the gas utility "engaged in unlawful and unfair business practices," creating the conditions which allowed the 8,500-foot deep storage well to fail.

State and county public health officials have said that the leak does not pose a health risk, although the odorant mercaptan in the natural gas has spawned continuing complaints from residents, resulting in evacuations last week of more than 800 households. Since the Oct. 23 discovery of the leak, state and local officials have been on the scene, and the state oil/gas supervisor in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has praised SoCalGas for its response (see Daily GPINov. 12).

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