PORTER RANCH (CNS) - One day after a $1.8 billion settlement was announced to resolve litigation stemming from the 2015 leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch, residents and activists gathered today to renew their call for the facility's closure.
“No amount of money can make up for the suffering Los Angeles communities have endured after the Aliso Canyon gas blowout,'' Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy said in a statement. “Governor (Gavin) Newsom has survived the recall and yet this community has not seen justice served. Every time this facility is used, the community immediately reports health issues. It is a constant trauma for this community as long as the SoCalGas facility remains open. We are calling on Governor Newsom to keep his promise and shut this facility down.''
Newsom has called on state regulators to expedite the ultimate closure of the storage facility, but it remains in operation. Southern California Gas Co. was permitted by state regulators in 2017 to resume injections of natural gas at the facility, although it is operating at reduced pressure levels.
SoCalGas noted in a statement Monday that a variety of safety measures have been taken at the site following the 2015-16 leak, the largest of its kind in U.S. history. The company said upgrades include the use of casings around inner steel tubing to provide a secondary level of protection,inspections/assessments of all wells and pressure testing, around-the-clock pressure monitoring of all wells and wellhead and fence-line methane detection systems.
“In the years since the leak, SoCalGas has worked alongside regulators, technical experts and our neighbors to enhance safety at all our underground storage facilities and our engagement with the community,'' SoCalGas CEO Scott Drury said in a Monday statement. “As a result, our storage facilities operate by what regulators and experts have called some of the most rigorous safety standards in the country.''
Residents, however, continued to decry the facility's operation and noted that the California Public Utilities Commission is considering a proposal to increase allowable storage limits.
Matt Packuko, a longtime resident of the area and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, said the $1.8 billion litigation settlement announced Monday is “an insulting number,'' saying no details on how the money will be distributed have been announced.
“The most important issue is not the one that's in the headlines,'' he said in a statement. “It's shutting down Aliso Canyon. So we're calling on Gavin Newsom to do what you promised to do in your campaign and shut this facility down. This place needs to be shut down with your executive order. It's already been proven so many times that it's not needed for energy.''
The settlement announced Monday will settle the claims of more than 35,000 victims of the leak, plaintiffs' attorneys said.
The plaintiffs in the Los Angeles Superior Court litigation alleged they suffered personal injury and property damage after one of SoCalGas' natural gas storage wells failed and uncontrollably released nearly 100,000 tons of methane and other substances into the atmosphere over 118 days.
Sempra and SoCalGas have denied wrongdoing. Subject to certain conditions, the settlement money will be allocated among the plaintiffs in accordance with a protocol developed by neutral, independent allocators, attorneys said.
In September 2016, SoCalGas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the gas leak, which began Oct. 23, 2015, and wasn't capped until mid-February 2016. Three other misdemeanor charges – one count of discharging air contaminants and two more counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials -- were dismissed as part of the deal.
Under its $4 million settlement agreement with prosecutors, SoCalGas was required to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site -- estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million -- and to retain an outside company to test and certify that the monitoring system and real-time pressure monitors to be placed at each gas well are working properly.
The agreement also mandated the hiring of a half-dozen full-time employees to operate and maintain the new leak-detection systems 24 hours a day at a cost of about $2.25 million over three years.
The agreement also called for the company to revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies, and mandated training courses on proper notification procedures for all of the utility's employees who work at natural gas storage facilities within Los Angeles County.
Health concerns stemming from the gas leak prompted thousands of residents to move out of the area into temporary housing at the expense of the Gas Co. Residents have complained of health issues due to exposure to benzene, uranium, crude oil and other cancer-causing chemicals.
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