Southern California Gas Co. is the operator of the Aliso Canyon natural gaz storage facility in San Fernando Valley. It will be required to monitor benzene levels at the site and notify nearby residents in the case of a potential gas leak. This is according to a binding agreement with an environmental health watchdog.
This settlement comes more six years after the storage unit emitted over 100,000 tons methane and other chemicals into air. It was the nation’s largest natural gas blowout. The gas leak, which occurred over four months and was first detected in October 2015, exposed residents to a range of chemicals that can cause cancer or harm to the reproductive systems.
This agreement is a significant step in making the polluter responsible for monitoring fence line benzene levels and ensuring residents have the right to know when they are. Kaya Allan Suegerman, director at the Center for Environmental Health’s Illegal Toxic Threats Program, stated in a statement Tuesday, February 1.
Residents have reported that they still experience nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms since the 2015 blowout. However, SoCalGas representatives stated that the leak contained benzene within a normal range. The gas company also maintained that long-term health risks were not found in air, soil, or dust samples taken by public health agencies after and during the leak.
The Center for Environmental Health, Oakland, joined a lawsuit against SoCalGas in 2016, accusing it of violating Proposition 65. This state law requires companies to warn the public about substantial exposure to chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
SoCalGas has not admitted to any wrongdoing in the latest settlement. The consent judgment signed by Daniel Buckley, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, stated that the Settling Defendant denied the factual and legal allegations made in the Notices and Complaints and explicitly denied any wrongdoing.
Christine Detz, SoCalGas spokeswoman, confirmed the settlement via a statement.
Detz stated that SoCalGas has reached an agreement with Detz to settle claims alleging violations by Proposition 65 regarding the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gasoline storage facility leak. This is subject to approval by the Court. The settlement includes $1.55 million from SoCalGas to plaintiffs, the State of Californias Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, and counsel.
The Center for Environmental Health is not the only plaintiff in the case.
SoCalGas must within 180 days of the consent judgment have a system in place to monitor benzene levels in two locations at the Aliso Canyon site.
Within thirty days of the system being operational, methane levels exceeding 25 parts/million for 30 minutes shall be notified to residents nearby who sign up for email and text alerts. A warning will also be posted on the SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Fenceline Monitoring website. The alerts must be sent no later than 12 hours after the monitoring system triggers an alert. However, SoCalGas shall make every effort to notify public within six hours of confirmation.
SoCalGas is required to convert or replace its gasoline powered, all-terrain vehicles located at Aliso Canyon with zero emission vehicles within 12 months to lower emissions.
Kyoko Hibino (co-founder and director) of Save Porter Ranch, a group whose members sued SoCalGas. In an interview, Hibino stated that the group, which is not part to the settlement, is happy with the mandatory benzene monitoring. However, members would prefer an independent company to do it. Hibino did not clarify whether SoCalGas would conduct the monitoring or have an outside party supervise it.
Any monitoring system is useful. Hibino stated that details are what we need.
She said that alerts would only be issued if benzene levels stay above 25 ppm over 30 minutes. However, residents are concerned that alerts may not go out if benzene concentrations are high for less than 30 seconds or that alerts could take hours to go out.
Porter Ranch residents who live near the SoCalGas property have long demanded that the gas storage facility be closed down completely. Many of them also participate in a $1.8 billion settlement with SoCalGas for the 2015 gas blowout. The plaintiffs in this case must decide by June 1 whether they’ll settle. The case could go to trial if less than 97% of the plaintiffs agree to settle.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown directed the California Public Utilities Commission to develop a plan to close the facility by 2027. Gavin Newsom requested that the commission expedite the plan for 2019. U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla also asked the agency to develop a plan to permanently eliminate the facility.
Henry Stern, State Senator, also announced recently that work is underway to close the facility by 2023.
In November, the commission members voted to increase the facility’s capacity to ensure that there is enough energy for the winter months. One commissioner stated that the agency plans to eventually close the facility or reduce its use.