LOS ANGELES — A $119.5 million settlement has been tentatively reached with the Southern California Gas Company over the unprecedented natural gas leak from a ruptured well at its Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in Porter Ranch, California.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with the California Air Resources Board, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, and the County of Los Angeles made the announcement in a joint news conference Wednesday morning.
Discovered on October 23, 2015, the leak caused natural gas to flow into the air for several months, releasing up to 109,000 metric tons of methane into the environment before the well was sealed in February 2016.
The Attorney General, CARB, the City Attorney, and the county filed lawsuits against SoCalGas.
Today’s settlement is the result of lengthy settlement negotiations between the parties. The settlement is subject to approval by the Los Angeles Superior Court, and, if approved, will resolve all claims alleged in these lawsuits.
“There is no excuse for what happened. For over four months, this leak exposed our communities to natural gas emissions that resulted in adverse health impacts and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Californians – displacing two area schools and driving residents from their homes,” Becerra said.
“California is a leader when it comes to addressing climate change,” he said. “This leak undermined our crucial work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect our people and the environment. If approved, this settlement will go a long way in addressing the short and long-term harms attributable to the leak.”
“This agreement will not only address the needs of communities directly affected by the leak, but will have a positive impact by providing funding for a broad range of air quality improvement projects,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “The settlement will also help reduce California’s methane emissions well into the future through transformative investment to curb emissions from industrial dairies, the state’s largest methane source.”
“When my office filed our lawsuit against SoCalGas, 975 days ago, I had three key goals: that there be a judicially-enforceable climate change mitigation plan; that strong measures are in place to prevent a disaster like this from happening again; and that SoCalGas be held accountable,” Feuer said.
“We’ve achieved these goals, and much more,” Feuer said. “We’ve also secured important health and safety protections for the Porter Ranch community, as well as underserved communities throughout Los Angeles. This landmark settlement will benefit Los Angeles for decades to come.”
“The County has fought hard to mitigate the damage this disaster had on our residents in Porter Ranch and nearby communities,” said LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “To continue this vital effort, this settlement provides funding for a long-term study of health impacts the gas leak had on the residents as well as funding for ongoing air quality monitoring of emissions from the facility.”
In a separate statement, Barger elaborated.
“Today, we are ensuring justice to the residents of the North San Fernando Valley that is long overdue,” she said. For over two and a half years, this community has endured such upheaval. At last, we have a comprehensive tentative settlement that meets this community’s and my priorities.
“Since the Aliso Canyon disaster, thousands of residents were displaced from their homes and suffered health concerns,” Barger said. “This tentative settlement includes the funds necessary to conduct the vital health study, which has been the community’s number one priority as well as mine. There is $25 million earmarked for the long-term health study, which our residents so desperately need and deserve. This $25 million is rightfully the largest single allocation in this settlement.
“The settlement also funds a new independent air monitoring and symptom reporting system, administered and operated by a third party – not the gas company. This system will provide much-needed transparency, accountability, and ultimately peace of mind to our community.
“We fought aggressively in court to win relocation benefits, reimbursements, and home cleaning for residents. SoCalGas has issued over $75 million in reimbursements for temporary relocation to residents and other expenses.
“Los Angeles County’s lawsuit put pressure on SoCalGas and regulators, which led to significant testing and safety improvements not only at Aliso Canyon, but at other gas storage fields in the county. But, the story doesn’t end here.
“While we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go,” Barger said. “My office will be active in the formation and review of the health study and will continue to fight for our Porter Ranch residents. This tentative settlement, which I hope will be approved by the court after the next 60 days, marks the first step toward healing for Porter Ranch. The community has my continued commitment to remain a proactive advocate and leader every step of the way.”
The joint statement continued.
“Our first priority is protecting the health, safety, and well-being of every family who calls L.A. home,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. “There is no way to fully compensate the people of Porter Ranch for all they endured during the Aliso Canyon disaster, but the residents of this neighborhood deserve justice — and this settlement would be an essential step forward in helping the community recover.”
“This settlement represents a positive first step in what is an ongoing effort to mitigate the lingering effects of the largest gas leak in U.S. history,” said LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander. “As Councilmember representing the nearly 20,000 people displaced by this environmental disaster, I will continue to demand accountability and stringent safety requirements at the facility.”
Addressing the needs of those affected by the leak, particularly the Porter Ranch community, and mitigating the environmental impacts of the leak were central priorities for Attorney General Becerra, CARB, City Attorney Feuer, and the county.
If approved by the court, the settlement will require SoCalGas to:
* Monitor methane at the Aliso Canyon facility’s fence line and post the data online in near real-time for eight years, with certain methane levels triggering new reporting requirements;
* Create a new internal safety committee which shall remain in place for eight years from approval of the settlement by the court;
* Retain an independent “safety ombudsman” to evaluate the internal safety committee’s work and report to the public, on safety-related issues at the Aliso Canyon facility for eight years following approval of the settlement by the court; and
* Refrain from shifting the cost of this settlement and actions taken to respond to the leak to SoCalGas’ ratepayers.
In addition, the settlement also will result in payments by SoCalGas totaling $119.5 million to be allocated toward:
* A long-term health study to assess direct health impacts of the leak;
* A local air monitoring network in Porter Ranch;
A “Mitigation Fund,” which will be invested in dairy biogas-collection infrastructure in order to fully mitigate the 109,000 metric tons of methane emitted by the leak;
* Civil penalties for violations of California law, legal fees and investigative costs to be divided between the California Air Resources Board, California Department of Justice, the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney and the County of Los Angeles; and
* Additional Environmental Benefits, including programs that will: provide air filtration systems in public schools; expand the LA County Breathmobile program, which provides much-needed pediatric asthma prevention and management services to children at no cost to families; develop new local air monitoring networks in underserved areas; provide electric buses for public schools in heavily polluted areas; and conduct lead paint abatement at certain areas in LA County.
In addition, the settlement will establish a fund to provide grants for other air pollution reduction projects.
A detailed breakdown of additional environmental projects resulting from the settlement is available HERE.
The settlement has been lodged with the court. There will be a 35-day public comment period on the Mitigation Agreement, a portion of the settlement which details how SoCalGas will mitigate the environmental impacts of the methane that was released during the leak.
After the public comment period, and within 60 days after lodging the settlement, the parties will file a request that the court approve the settlement.
A copy of the settlement is available HERE. A link to CARB’s public notice regarding the comment period can be found HERE.