LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A $119.5 million settlement agreement was announced today to resolve claims by several governmental bodies stemming from the massive Aliso Canyon methane leak -- the biggest in U.S. history -- that sent more than 100,000 tons of natural gas into neighborhoods around Porter Ranch.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilman Mitch Englander, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Supervisor Kathryn Barger and other officials expressed satisfaction with the settlement, which came as the result of lawsuits brought by the city and county of Los Angeles, and the state.
``This is a good step forward -- a comprehensive agreement that is not exhaustive, one that gets the community what they deserve,” Garcetti said during a news conference with other officials at the California Department of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.
According to a statement released by Southern California Gas Co., the settlement with the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, the County of Los Angeles, the California Attorney General's office and the California Air Resources Board resolves ``all outstanding claims by those government bodies against the company related to the 2015-2016 natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.”
``Under the terms of the $119.5 million settlement agreement, SoCalGas will, among other things, reimburse city, county and state governments for costs associated with their response to the leak; establish a program with the California Air Resources Board to mitigate the methane emissions from the leak; and fund local environmental benefit projects to be administered by the government parties,” according to the statement.
Government officials said the settlement also includes $25 million for a long-term health study of the people impacted by the leak, which is something that county health officials have been calling for. The settlement also prevents SoCalGas from passing the costs associated with the settlement onto ratepayers.
The gas stemmed from an underground storage facility owned by the company.
Officials said the invisible gas was flowing for about four months in what is being called the worst methane leak in history. Thousands of residents moved out of their homes into temporary housing, and people from the area said they experienced health issues such as headaches, nosebleeds and nausea.
A class-action suit involving around 9,000 plaintiffs has been filed again SoCalGas and remains pending. People affiliated with the lawsuit said they resented the government settlement, since it indicates a state investigation of the leak will end even though, they claim, the leaking has not stopped.
One Porter Ranch area resident briefly disrupted the downtown news conference announcing the settlement and called the resolution `` unbelievable crap.”
``Once again, elected officials have screwed the victims of the biggest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill,” Matt Pakucko said. ``This is unacceptable, unfathomable and totally believable that our elected officials and agencies would get bought out like this by SoCalGas.”
Sen. Henry Stern, D-Woodland Hills, was also critical of the settlement and said much of it would not benefit the residents impacted by the leak.
``The public health study is certainly a big win. But, this settlement does nothing to reduce our dependence on Aliso Canyon. Instead of improving the lives of residents and ratepayers impacted by the blowout, it would fund pet projects for the Gas Company hundreds of miles away,” Stern said. ``Over three quarters of the $119.5 million settlement would go towards projects that do not directly benefit the community impacted by the 2015 disaster that forced over 10,000 residents from their homes, and continues to plague the north San Fernando Valley with health problems. For example, $26.5 million is proposed to go for methane capture for dairy farms in the Central Valley.”
Becerra and other government officials stressed the settlement only closes one chapter in the issues surrounding the leak.
``I want to make this clear. This does not resolve another crucial component that resulted from this incident, and that is the personal harm and injury and damages that Angelenos suffered as a result of this leak, whether you were living in Porter Ranch or not.” Becerra said. ``That litigation involves hundreds of lawsuits and thousands of litigants at this very moment. This also does not resolve another of the legal actions that are being taken to address this incident, and that component is the one that tries to discover the cause of this incident. That is under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission. They are right now in the process of doing the investigative work to come out with an answer to the cause of this particular incident.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the Porter Ranch area, classified the settlement as a ``first step” but said one of his ultimate goals is for the facility to be permanently closed.
``I will not stop demanding accountability, from this utility and from others, from regulators, with the ultimate goal of permanently closing down this facility once and for all,” Englander said, adding that Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 set a 10-year goal of closing Aliso Canyon.
Bret Lane, the utility's president and chief operating officer, said SoCalGas ``is delivering on our commitment to the governor and the people of California to fully mitigate the methane emissions from the leak at our Aliso Canyon facility.”
``The settlement will also help California meet its ambitious climate goals by advancing projects that capture methane from dairy farms and waste and convert that energy into renewable natural gas for use in transportation,” he said. ``SoCalGas is pleased to have worked with the Attorney General's Office, the Air Resources Board, the Los Angeles City Attorney and the County of Los Angeles to resolve these matters for the people of California.”
The gas leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and continued emanating methane until February 2016, poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air.
Limited operations resumed at the facility in late July 2017 with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.
Last year, SoCalGas reached an $8.5 million settlement with South Coast Air Quality Management District over the leak, which included $1 million in funding for an SCAQMD-sponsored health study on the impacts of the leak, although county health officials said that $35 million to $40 million would be needed for an adequate study.
Barger said the initial amount being asked for was an estimate, but that the Department of Public Health determined $25 million would be sufficient and is the ``full ask” by the county.