Breaking News: SoCalGas Removed Safety Valve From Leaking Porter Ranch Natural Gas Storage Well Over Three Decades Ago

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Southern California Gas Company’s removal of a safety valve in one of its 100-plus storage wells has led to a massive well blowout in Porter Ranch, raising questions about the safety and maintenance of its Aliso Canyon Underground Storage Facility. The damaged well, identified as SS-25, began spewing noxious gases into the hillside community on October 23, 2015, sickening hundreds of residents and continues to displace thousands of families from their homes.

In an interview with LA Weekly, SoCalGas executive Roger Schwecke confirmed the gas company’s cavalier approach to public safety began over three decades ago.

In 1979, SoCalGas told the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources that it ‘replaced’ the subsurface safety system on the injection well that blew out. In fact, as Mr. Schwecke disclosed, SoCalGas actually removed the safety valve because it was old, leaking and difficult to find a new part. Instead, the company opted not to replace it because SS-25 wasn’t a ‘critical well’,” said attorney Brian Panish.

According to state law, a ‘critical well’ is defined as a well that is within 300 feet of homes. Following those standards, SS-25 does not qualify as a critical well because it is about one-mile from Porter Ranch residences.

While the presence of a safety valve may not have prevented the leak in Aliso Canyon, it surely would have enabled SoCalGas to stop the continued flow of natural gas into the neighboring community once the well’s failure was discovered.

“One of the fundamental requirements of a company given a monopoly to provide natural gas services in Southern California is that they do so in a safe manner. This safety requirement applies to all aspects of their operation, from the pipelines and distribution systems to their storage fields,” Mr. Panish said. “While utility companies often seek to pass on the costs of upgrades or safety projects to ratepayers by claiming the projects were unexpected and resulted from new regulations, that argument fails when applied to Aliso Canyon.”

As tons of methane gas, a powerful climate pollutant, continues to flow from SS-25 and into Porter Ranch on a daily basis, SoCalGas has begun the lengthy process of drilling a relief well and estimates that repairs to the damaged well won’t be completed until late-February or possibly March 2016.

Working alongside environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of Kennedy & Madonna LLP as well as with attorneys from R. Rex Parris Law Firm and Morgan & Morgan, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP continues to seek justice for residents affected by the natural gas well blowout and hold SoCalGas accountable for their negligence. Residents from Porter Ranch and surrounding communities are encouraged to consult with an attorney for a no-obligation case review to evaluate their legal options.

Panish Shea & Boyle LLP has a successful track record in cases against SoCalGas. In June 2014, the firm obtained at $19.8 million jury verdict to a man who suffered severe burn and traumatic brain injuries when his rental home exploded as a result of a Southern California Gas Company’s negligence. In 2008, PSB obtained a $15 million jury verdict against SoCalGas for a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a company truck. Panish Shea & Boyle LLP also represented numerous plaintiffs in the San Bruno PG&E gas explosion cases. Our attorneys are and have always been champions of consumer rights.

For more information on the Porter Ranch Gas Well Blowout or to consult with an attorney, visit www.porterranchlawsuit.com.

Listen to Brian Panish talk about the safety valve removal on KFI’s John & Ken Show

Read the Los Angeles Times story here