[District Atty] – Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Tuesday a $4 million settlement with Southern California Gas Co. that will require the utility to pay the maximum fine authorized by law and to adopt safety measures beyond those required by federal and state laws at its Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.
“This agreement ensures that Southern California Gas Co. is held accountable for its criminal actions for failing to immediately report the leak,” District Attorney Lacey said.
“Our office has helped bring the Aliso Canyon facility into compliance, keeping in mind that public safety is of the upmost importance,” she said. “Going forward the protections put in place by this agreement create a safer facility for its employees, the environment and the surrounding communities.”
The company pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the Oct. 23, 2015, gas leak to the California Office of Emergency Services and to the local Certified Unified Program Agency. Pursuant to the plea, SoCal Gas will be ordered to pay $307,500 which includes the maximum fine of $75,000 plus a penalty assessment of $232,500.
With this conviction, the company is on notice and could face a more serious criminal penalty in the future if the same unlawful conduct occurs.
As part of the agreement, the company will be required to install and maintain a new, infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site that will cost between $1.2 and $1.5 million. Real-time pressure monitors also will be placed at each gas well as required by the state. The settlement requires that an outside company be retained to test and certify that both systems are working properly.
Pursuant to the agreement, six full-time employees will be hired to operate and maintain the new leak detection systems 24 hours a day. The total cost for these positions will be approximately $2.25 million for the next three years.
The agreement requires the company to revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies. It further mandates training courses on proper notification procedures for all SoCal Gas employees who work at natural gas storage facilities within Los Angeles County.
In addition to the $307,500 fine and penalty, SoCal Gas will pay $246,672.88 for the cost of the investigation and emergency response by the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Health and Hazardous Materials Division.
Terms of the settlement must be completed by the Nov. 29 sentencing date. At that time, the remaining three counts against the company will be dismissed. This settlement will not interfere with the pending civil actions against the company.
Deputy District Attorneys Yael Massry, Daniel Wright and Christopher Curtis in the Environmental Crimes – OSHA Section prosecuted the case.
Case 6SC00433 was investigated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Statement from SoCalGas:
Earlier today, Southern California Gas Co.(SoCalGas) entered into a settlement agreement with the District Attorney’s Office for Los Angeles County related to operations at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. Under the terms of the agreement, SoCalGas will plead no contest to one count in the Complaint, a misdemeanor violation of Health and Safety Code Section 25510(a) for failing to timely report the natural gas leak to the California Office of Emergency Services and the Los Angeles County Fire Department from October 23-26, 2015. The remaining counts will be dismissed upon performance of the agreement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, SoCalGas will pay up to approximately $4.3 million. In response to today’s agreement, SoCalGas issued the following statement:
“SoCalGas is committed to working with its regulators to address issues with respect to the Aliso Canyon facility. Today’s agreement, which provides for the implementation of certain approved operational enhancements, including updated notification, monitoring, and training procedures, is another important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community. These are in addition to other enhancements that have already been instituted by the company.
“Aliso Canyon is critical to the reliability of natural gas and electricity services in Southern California. We are diligently working with state officials to complete a comprehensive safety review of the facility and are committed to providing safe and reliable energy to the millions of Californians who rely on us each day.”
This press release contains statements that are not historical fact and constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements can be identified by words like “believes,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “plans,” “estimates,” “projects,” “forecasts,” “contemplates,” “intends,” “assumes,” “depends,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “will,” “confident,” “may,” “potential,” “possible,” “proposed,” “target,” “pursue,” “goals,” “outlook,” “maintain” or similar expressions, or discussions of guidance, strategies, plans, goals, opportunities, projections, initiatives, objectives or intentions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Future results may differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements.