The government agency that regulates Southern California's air quality sued Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday, accusing the company of negligence in a massive gas well leak that has forced thousands to leave their homes.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said the utility's negligence extended to the design, construction, operation and inspection of one of the wells at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility near Porter Ranch, according to the civil complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The well, one of 115 at the sprawling storage facility, has been leaking since Oct. 23, sending methane into the atmosphere above the Los Angeles Basin. The gas has a noxious additive that has also entered the air, prompting residents' complaints of a rotten egg-like smell.
The lawsuit alleges the gas company has violated air quality regulations and state law for each day that the well continues to leak, and it faults the utility for a sluggish response to what has become a regional public health threat. The suit seeks up to $250,000 in civil penalties for each day that a specific violation has occurred.
Kristine Lloyd, a spokeswoman for Southern California Gas, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
The company has tried several times to plug the well, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
Since early December, the utility has been drilling a relief well to intercept gas from the damaged one and seal it. On Monday, the company said that the relief well had reached 8,400 feet below the surface, about 200 feet away from where it is designated to enter the damaged well.
The well continues to spew methane, a greenhouse gas that has a more potent effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. The rate of release has slowed, however, dropping to 18,400 kilograms per hour of methane as of last week. At its peak in November, the well released 58,000 kilograms of methane.
The leak has displaced thousands of Porter Ranch residents, many of whom have complained of headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and other health maladies.
According to the lawsuit, the air quality agency has received more than 2,000 odor complaints from those living and working near the Aliso Canyon facility.
The lawsuit comes days after the agency approved a comprehensive abatement order that requires the gas company to permanently shut down the damaged well, establish a leak detection system and conduct
an independent health study.
The lawsuit is one of several filed against the gas company since the leak was first reported. In December, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer sued the utility, alleging that the company was ill-prepared to stop a leak.
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