Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Wednesday agreed to a proposed $119.5 million settlement to resolve state and local complaints regarding the 2015-16 natural gas storage leak at the Aliso Canyon underground field north of Los Angeles.
The agreement between the state attorney general, Los Angeles city and county attorneys and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) calls for the Sempra Energy utility to address legal complaints. There is still no determination of the root cause of the leak, the largest in U.S. history, nor whether Aliso Canyon would be allowed to resume operations.
As part of the settlement, SoCalGas tentatively agreed to reimburse authorities for costs associated with responding to the leak, while also establishing a CARB program to mitigate methane emissions from the leak and to fund various projects. SoCalGas agreed to pay civil penalties and $25 million for a long-term health study, $26.5 million for greenhouse gas emissions projects, and $45.4 million for other environmental projects.
SoCalGas President Bret Lane said the utility was “delivering on its commitment…to fully mitigate the methane emissions.” In addition, the settlement may help the state meet its ambitious climate change mitigation goals by advancing projects that capture methane from dairy farms.
Environmental group Food & Water Watch criticized the settlement as “bankrolling SoCalGas efforts to keep California dependent” on natural gas, and spokesperson Alexandra Nagy said it also “fails to adequately benefit” the families potentially harmed by the well blowout.
Under the state’s updated operational rules, the 3,200-acre facility last summer gained regulatory approval to resume limited injections. The regulations allow gas to flow only through newly installed and pressure-tested inner steel tubing.
In outlining the proposed settlement, SoCalGas officials said updated technology and practices have been added to the facility since the leak, including 24/7 pressure monitoring of all wells; four daily patrols to visually examine every well; daily scanning of all wells with infrared thermal imaging cameras; and enhanced training for employees and contractors.
The leak prompted federal and state investigations. Residents of the nearby Porter Ranch development said they want the health study in the settlement to be carried out by a third-party research organization, not utility or state officials.
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