As part of a $4 million settlement with Los Angeles County prosecutors, Southern California Gas Company pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the October 23, 2015 gas well blowout at its Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. The utility company waited three days before notifying the state Office of Emergency Services of the unprecedented natural gas leak that sickened hundreds of Porter Ranch residents, shut down neighboring schools and displaced thousands of families for months.
“The conscious decision made by SoCalGas to withhold vital information relevant to the health and safety of families surrounding the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility is irreprehensible,” said Brian Panish. “We applaud the County of Los Angeles for holding the gas company accountable for their criminal actions and fully intend to bring justice for those families who suffered as a result of SoCalGas’ reckless disregard for the people and the laws that are in place keep them safe.”
As part of the plea agreement, the gas company will be required to pay the maximum fine of $75,000 plus a penalty assessment of $232,500 and install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system as well as real-time pressure monitors at each gas well at its Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.
“This agreement ensures that Southern California Gas Co. is held accountable for its criminal actions for failing to immediately report the leak,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a press release. “Going forward the protections put in place by this agreement create a safer facility for its employees, the environment and the surrounding communities.”
The agreement also requires SoCalGas to pay $246,672.88 for the cost of the investigation and emergency response by the L.A. County Fire Department’s Health and Hazardous Materials Division. It must also revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies.
If SoCalGas completes the terms of the settlement by November 29, the remaining three counts against the company will be dismissed. However, if it fails to adhere to the policies now put in place, it could face a more serious criminal penalty in the future.
The settlement between SoCalGas and Los Angeles County will not interfere with the pending civil actions against the utility.