Southern California Gas Co. has agreed to a settlement that includes $4 million in fines and upgrades to monitoring equipment to end litigation resulting from the Porter Ranch gas leak that forced more than 8,000 people from their homes for months and closed businesses and schools, the Santa Clarita Valley (California) Signal reported.
The company pleaded no contest before Santa Clarita Judge Alan Rosenfield.
The settlement included a $75,000 fine and $232,500 in penalties. SoCal Gas agreed to install infrared methane leak monitors around its perimeter fence and hire six full-time employees to operate it round the clock. Wells also will be fitted with “real time” gas pressure monitors, and an outside company will be hired to test and certify the systems.
Terms must be implemented by Nov. 29. If the settlement terms are met, three remaining charges will be dismissed, the Signal reported.
Prosecutors accused the utility of delaying a report of the leak by three days. The leak, which vented 5.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas, began Oct. 23 and was not capped until February. Oily residue coated playground equipment at parks and other structures. Health officials received 700 complaints from residents.
“This agreement ensures that Southern California Gas Co. is held accountable for its criminal actions for failing to immediately report the leak,” LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.
The company had no immediate comment.
Residents of the area complained of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea, and have filed numerous civil lawsuits, which are not affected by Tuesday’s settlement, the Los Angeles Times reported. Some of the suits seek to force the gas facility to shut down permanently, the Times said.
Residents were unhappy with Tuesday’s settlement.
“I’m mad,” Maureen Capra told the Signal as she left the Santa Clarita Courthouse. “There are a lot of conditions but they’re keeping the operation there. I want it shut down. … We’re all suffering,”
Lacey filed four misdemeanor criminal charges against SoCal Gas in February for neglecting to report the release of hazardous materials until three days after the initial leak.
The leak prompted federal lawmakers to propose tougher gas storage rules, setting minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities.
A survey done in the wake of the Porter Ranch leak found 229 faulty valves, flanges and leaky wellheads at 12 storage fields in the state and a 230th leak at an abandoned well. Eight of the leaks were deemed hazardous. Sixty-six of the leaks were reported at Aliso Canyon, which was responsible Porter Ranch leak. The leaky abandoned well was at Aliso Canyon as well.