Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed four misdemeanor charges against the Southern California Gas Company for failing to immediately notify state authorities of a natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon. The charges amend a civil suit brought by Los Angeles in December to include accusations that Southern California Gas Company violated health and safety codes, public nuisance laws and reporting requirements for the release of hazardous materials.
The gas leak began on Oct. 23 after a pipe burst at an underground natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon. According to the charges files on Tuesday, the Southern California Gas Company only informed the city of the leak on Oct. 26. If found guilty, the Southern California Gas Company would have to pay $25,000 for each day the leak went unreported and another $1,000 for every day the leak has polluted the air. An arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 17.
Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency on Dec. 15, and Governor Jerry Brown followed suit on Jan. 6. The leak has released about 80,000 metric tons of methane and more than 5,000 families have been evacuated away from the affected area. Two schools have been moved and thousands of residents have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms as a result of exposure to methane. Southern California Gas Company has tried several times to stop the leak, none of which have proven successful.
The charges filed by Jackie Lacey on Tuesday brings to 11 the number of state, local and federal agencies that are investigating or suing Southern California Gas Company. At the present stage, only the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office can bring criminal charges against the company, but state senators are working to bring federal authorities into the matter.
Gov. Jerry Brown is coming under criticism for being slow to declare a state of emergency, and his family connections to Southern California Gas Company are being called into question. His sister, Kathleen Brown, is a member of the board of directors of Sempra Energy, which owns Southern California Gas Company. Last year, Jerry Brown pledged to reduce the methane emissions by 40% by 2030. The gas leak in Aliso Canyon has largely undone California’s recent progress in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
There are 14 underground storage wells in the state of California, and recently introduced legislation in the state Senate would require them all to be inspected within the next 12 months. The leak at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility was apparently caused by corroded pipe some 9,000 feet underground. The failed wellhead was originally installed in 1953. State authorities are now developing a rapid response plan to deal with any future leaks at other underground natural gas storage facilities.
Fortunately the leak occurred away from the more densely populated areas of Los Angeles County. Aliso Canyon and nearby Porter Ranch are located in the far northern part of Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.
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