L.A. County sues over reopening of Aliso Canyon

L.A. County is suing state regulators and Southern California Gas Co. for failing to conduct required safety and environmental studies and to turn over public documents before reopening the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility.

State regulators announced this week that Aliso Canyon could resume natural gas injections at a reduced capacity. From October 2015 to February 2016, the underground gas storage facility in Porter Ranch produced the largest leak of methane in U.S. history, prompting the relocation of thousands of residents and widespread outrage over the effect on public health.

"Today's action reflects the Board of Supervisors' commitment to protect the health and safety of our residents and to require the state to complete the legally mandated studies and mitigate all risks to the maximum extent possible," said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes Porter Ranch.

The county originally filed suit in March against the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission and SoCalGas. In that suit, the county claimed the state had not conducted a comprehensive safety review of the facility or an environmental impact review as required by state laws.

The amended lawsuit filed Friday afternoon includes a request to immediately stay the decision to resume natural gas injections at the facility. The county filed an additional complaint stating that regulators had failed to turn over public documents relating to the safety review, analysis of the root cause of the leak and seismic studies.

The lawsuit includes exhibits in which SoCalGas’ former head of storage stated that the wells were subject to seismic instability and recommended that safety valves be installed.

“The reopening of the facility is highly troubling and irresponsible,” the complaint states. “This is a regulator rushing to approve reopening without completing necessary investigations and risking public health.”

Neither the state Department of Conservation nor the Public Utilities Commission could be reached for comment. A news release issued by the two agencies Wednesday said that the decision to reopen Aliso Canyon followed months of rigorous inspection and well analysis.

“The extensive testing, retrofits and new safety measures ensure the wells are in sound operating condition today,” said oil and gas supervisor Ken Harris, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Scott Kuhn, deputy county counsel, said that there was no immediate need to open the facility and that concerns about energy shortages are overblown.

“What is the rush?” Kuhn said. “There’s enough gas in there right now for them to withdraw during any peak day.”

The county will file an application for a temporary restraining order Monday, Kuhn said. A hearing is expected to be held July 28.

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina

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