The Southern California Gas Co. is agreeing to pay a $4 million fine to settle criminal charges stemming from last year’s Porter Ranch gas leak. But this may be a drop in the bucket compared to the incoming flood of costly civil suits from residents and regulators irate about their exposure to such dangerous premises.
This settlement finalizes charges brought forth by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The California gas company pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of failure to notify the requisite city and state emergency services immediately following their knowledge of the massive gas leak. There were no charges pursued against the gas company’s inability to timely close what became the largest recorded methane leak in U.S. history, nor did charges address the forced evacuation of thousands of residents to evacuate during the four months course of the disaster.
Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission estimate that the leak has cost the utility over $700 million to date. This amount does not account for the over 100 currently filed lawsuits representing thousands of residents. Nor does it include a lawsuit by the California attorney general who is accusing Southern California Gas Co. of violating the state’s health and safety laws for their failure to adequately alert authorities and control the leak. The South Coast Air Quality Management District is also issuing its own fine against the company.
In addition to the paltry fine of $4 million — SoCal’s parent company made $10 billion in revenue last year — the gas company acceded to a number of infrastructure-related demands, including the installation of eight infrared methane leak detection systems, the employment of six full-time employees to monitor those systems, and the testing of systems by a third-party organization.
However, many residents living in Porter Ranch and other nearby communities are not satisfied with this settlement. The criticism lies in the fact that such measures focus only on identifying leaks once they occur, rather than working to prevent such catastrophes from the on. In fact, just a night before the settlement’s announcement, SoCal officials reported another leak in an Aliso Canyon above-ground pipe. This does little to assuage residents afraid they continue to live on dangerous premises.
The civilian lawsuits include complaints by residents of health problems associated with the leak and concerns about how the methane leak and the company’s failure to change impacts property values.
If you have been affected by a gas leak, please contact our office at 888-212-0440 for a free case evaluation.
Information Source: LA Times, 13 Sept 2016