A Long Beach oil and gas company suspected of venting gas from an oil well in Aliso Canyon has been fined $75,000.
State regulators with the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources announced the civil penalty against Termo Co. on Friday.
Termo operates wells at the Aliso Canyon Oil Field, where Southern California Gas also has gas storage facilities. Aliso Canyon was the site of a recent major leak at a Southern California Gas well that lasted for nearly four months before it was sealed.
Regulators said they found that Termo had been illegally releasing gas that is produced along with oil into the air because the company could not transmit it to Southern California Gas' storage facility.
Injections of natural gas had been halted by state order until other wells are tested for leaks.
State officials said Termo had been venting gas from one of its oil wells through a small pipeline attached to a wellhead. It was unclear how long the venting had gone on or how much gas was released, they said.
According to the order issued by the state, the pipe was discovered in January, when Jet Propulsion Laboratory and South Coast Air Quality Management District staff flew over the facility with an infrared camera. Field staff went to the site and found the end of the pipe behind a tree, releasing a "notable volume" of gas.
A Termo employee told them it was part of an emergency relief system being used because they could not transmit the gas to the Southern California Gas storage facility, state officials said. When inspectors returned a few days later, they said, the pipe had been removed.
"Someone clearly made an effort to conceal the pipe, because even though we knew from aerial readings where it was generally, our field staff had to search carefully before finding it behind a tree," State Oil & Gas Supervisor Ken Harris said in a statement. "If it wasn't for the aerial surveillance, the illegal discharge could have continued indefinitely."
Termo spokesman Ralph Combs said in a statement that the company's technical team is "reviewing the order, and has identified several discrepancies by the state which we are evaluating."
"We look forward to resolving this issue in a timely manner," he said.
The state cited the company for unreasonable waste of gas, improper disposal of oil field waste and failure to maintain and monitor production facilities.