by Fernando Florez
Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) has pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of failure to immediately report a release of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Facility near Porter Ranch, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (DA) announced last week. The criminal case was settled for $4 million in fines, penalties and facility improvements.
On Oct. 23, SoCalGas experienced a massive natural gas release from its Standard Sesnon Well No. 25 (SS25); however, the company did not report the release to the Office of Emergency Services (OES) as required by law until Oct. 26. After learning of the gas leak via the OES report, the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) Emergency Operations staff responded to the SoCalGas facility and initiated a full-scale hazardous materials response and investigation.
The Fire Department established unified command with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and SoCalGas on Jan. 22. The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources was heavily involved to oversee the well shut off (kill) activities. The well closure took about four months; SoCalGas finally shut down the gas leak in February.
On Dec. 8, HHMD’s Investigations Unit referred its investigation of SoCalGas to the DA. The DA on Feb. 2 filed a four-count misdemeanor criminal complaint against SoCalGas for failure to immediately report the release.
As part of the settlement agreement, SoCalGas has been ordered to pay $307,500, which includes the maximum fine of $75,000 plus a penalty assessment of $232,500.
SoCalGas will also be required to install and maintain a new infrared methane monitoring system that will cost $1.5 million and real-time pressure monitors at each of the gas wells. In addition, the settlement requires SoCalGas to hire an outside company test and certify that the new systems are working properly.
Pursuant to the agreement, SoCalGas must hire six full-time employees to operate and maintain the new leak detection system 24 hours a day at a cost of $2.25 million over the next three years.
In addition to the fine, penalty and facility improvements, SoCalGas will pay $246,672 for the cost of the investigation and emergency response by HHMD. Terms of the settlement must be completed by the Nov. 29 sentencing date.
As a result of HHMD’s efforts and the DA’s successful case, the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility will be safer for the community, the environment, and employees of SoCalGas.