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Environmental Group Sues SoCal Gas Alleging Toxic Leaks

An Oakland, CA-based environmental legal group Thursday filed a lawsuit against Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. alleging leakage of toxics into groundwater from the utility's smallest underground storage field along the coast at Marina del Rey. A utility spokesperson strongly denied that any gas has seeped from the Playa del Rey storage facility.

The gas is stored 6,000 feet underground in an abandoned oil field that now is surrounded by million-dollar homes in the residential part of Los Angeles.

The lawsuit by the Environmental Law Foundation alleges that the gas utility has violated the state's law prohibiting discharge or release of cancer-causing chemicals (Proposition 65). The action was filed in a state Superior Court in Los Angeles where SoCalGas is headquartered.

After reviewing the lawsuit early Friday, SoCal called the legal action "frivolous" and said it would "loudly assert" the storage field doesn't leak into aquifers or anywhere else, the utility spokesperson said, noting that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has investigated similar accusations in the past and found there was no problem. The alleged places where leaks have occurred are abandoned wells that are no longer part of the storage field operation, but it has been determined previously that they had not leaked; any gas found in the aquifers has come from methane deposits in nearby fields that are not part of the utility's operations, the spokesperson said.

"Playa del Rey Underground Storage Field has a long track record for safety and integrity," the SoCal spokesperson said.

Although no one is alleging the current situation is dangerous to public health, the group contends three aquifers in the area could be contaminated and they in turn eventually could be used for drinking water as a nearby planned residential and commercial development, Playa Vista, continues to grow as one of the last major new developments within the sprawling city of Los Angeles.

While the environmental group alleged the underground storage field is "leaking like a sieve," SoCal's spokesperson strongly denied that, saying the storage field does not leak, according to a report in Friday's Los Angeles Times. The storage field is accessed from a coastal bluff, which is surrounded by a protected wetlands area and the newly developed Playa Vista community on land at the foot of the bluffs. Naturally occurring methane leaks historically have been found in those low-lying areas, sparking controversy, but the gas utility contends they are unrelated to the storage field operations.

SoCalGas stores up to 125 Bcf in four underground facilities, but the bulk is contained in two inland fields. Playa del Rey is its smallest storage field, but important because of its proximity to the greater Los Angeles Basin.

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