Southern California Gas Co. attorneys on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges concerning the natural gas storage well leak near a Los Angeles neighborhood that forced thousands of residents from their homes.

The Sempra Energy utility, the nation’s largest gas-only utility, was arraigned on four misdemeanor charges for failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23-Oct. 26, 2015 and discharging air contaminants beginning on Oct. 23.

The arraignment was held in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Clarita.

Los Angeles County prosecutor Jackie Lacey filed the charges on Feb. 2, the same day California Attorney General Kamala Harris also sued the company. SoCalGas also faces a slew of private lawsuits filed on behalf of area residents (see Daily GPI, Feb. 3).

Under California law, if convicted, SoCalGas may be fined up to $25,000/day for each day that it failed to report the gas leak to the California Office of Emergency Services. The company also faces fines of up to $1,000/day for air pollution violations.

The leak stems from an underground storage well rupture at the 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, reportedly the largest such leak ever in California that at its height it accounted for 25% of all methane emissions statewide.

Odorant in the natural gas emissions sickened scores of people, causing several thousand households to be relocated from the Porter Ranch community that sits at the edge of the field.