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California

L.A. County lawsuit demands new safety equipment on gas wells

aliso canyon
Tera Lecuona of Porter Ranch holds a protest sign during a hearing in Granada Hills over a gas leak at Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Southern California Gas Co. should be required to install subsurface safety shut-off valves on all of its natural gas wells in Los Angeles County in order to prevent a leak like the one that lasted for months in Aliso Canyon, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. 

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court by attorneys for Los Angeles County, alleges public nuisance and abatement, unfair competition, breach of franchise agreement and breach of lease. The lawsuit seeks new safety measures and unspecified damages. 

It took gas crews four months to stop a leak in the natural gas field above Porter Ranch after it was discovered in October. Attorneys for Los Angeles County say the leak could have been stopped much sooner had a subsurface valve been in place. The well, known as SS-25, did have a valve at one time but it broke in 1979 and was never repaired or replaced, according to the lawsuit. 

The leak in Aliso Canyon released 100,000 tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, making it the largest natural gas leak in American history. Thousands of people voluntarily evacuated after odorants in the methane caused stomachaches and nosebleeds.

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“Given the aging infrastructure and inadequate safety measures employed by SoCal Gas, the risk of another gas leak occurring is great and poses a monumental risk to the residents of Los Angeles County,” the court documents say. 

Southern California Gas has not yet reviewed the lawsuit, spokesman Chris Gilbride said. But  “the Aliso Canyon storage facility was in compliance with [state] regulations at the time of the leak, and SoCal Gas has and will continue to support reasonable, forward-looking, regulatory policies,” he said. “Such policies are set by our regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal levels of government.” 

The gas company manages more than 200 wells at four locations in L.A. County — Aliso Canyon, Playa del Rey, Honor Rancho-Santa Clarita and Montebello.

An attorney for the county said it’s unknown how many of those wells have safety vales but he estimated installation would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per well. The gas company could not immediately confirm that figure. 

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“The gas company has demonstrated time and time again that they’re unwilling to uphold their responsibilities,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. “Time has long passed for the gas company to grow a moral compass.”

After the leak, state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) introduced legislation, SB 887, which would require subsurface valves for all urban wells, including those in Aliso Canyon, Playa del Rey and Santa Clarita. Under current state law, wells within 300 feet of a home or 100 feet of a roadway or recreational facility must have subsurface valves. 

Officials with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources will host a workshop on well safety Aug. 11 in Woodland Hills.

The county lawsuit is the latest chapter in the ongoing legal battle resulting from the Aliso Canyon leak. Thousands of plaintiffs represented by more than 80 attorneys have filed 131 legal actions against the gas company. Many seek reimbursement for lodging, food, mileage, medical expenses and home cleanings.

The IRS announced last week that homeowners will not have to pay income tax on reimbursements received from Southern California Gas. 

The gas company filed its own legal papers two weeks ago asking the court to amend a directive from the L.A. County Department of Public Health that the utility clean all homes in Porter Ranch and all homes within a five-mile radius of the leaking gas well. 

“There has been no data provided to support this unnecessary demand from a health and safety perspective,” a statement from the gas company said.  “It will only cause additional disruption to a community that wants to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

alice.walton@latimes.com

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Twitter: @TheCityMaven


UPDATES:

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Southern California Gas Co.

This article was originally published at 4:25 p.m.


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