Letters to the Editor: The biggest problem with Aliso Canyon is SoCalGas’ safety culture

SoCalGas workers and local government officials at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility during the 2015 methane leak.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: I commend The Times for its editorial noting that financial settlements with the Southern California Gas Co. cannot begin to restore the feeling of safety that nearby residents lost after the 2015 methane leak at Aliso Canyon.

Based on my 35 years of experience researching the reliability of complex, safety-sensitive technological systems, I believe that human factors and organizational safety culture issues were the root causes of this catastrophic failure. My former students and I addressed those issues in an extensive research paper published in 2017.

With the safety culture at SoCalGas, I believe closing Aliso Canyon while natural gas is still being used in Southern California will not remove the risk of a leak, but rather just move it to the company’s other operating underground facilities, which are La Goleta, Honor Rancho and Playa Del Rey. Of course, nearby Porter Ranch residents will rest in safety, but what about neighbors of the other facilities?


A company’s safety culture is analogous to the human body’s immune system, which protects against pathogens and fending off diseases. Similarly, a good safety culture protects against risky decision making such as cutting the budget for preventive maintenance of safety-sensitive systems.

Until California fully transitions to clean energy, a solution for the safe management of underground gas storage facilities is to fix the safety culture at SoCalGas and its parent company, Sempra Energy.

Najmedin Meshkati, Los Angeles

The writer is a professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at USC.