LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – State and local officials have reached a purported $119.5 million settlement with the Southern California Gas Co. over the Aliso Canyon methane gas leak, the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history, which forced thousands of Porter Ranch residents to evacuate their homes.
Under the terms of the deal, SoCalGas will “reimburse city, county and state governments for costs associated with their response to the leak; establish a program with the California Air Resources Board to mitigate the methane emissions from the leak; and fund local environmental benefit projects to be administered by the government parties,” the company said in a statement.
The settlement was announced in a news conference Wednesday at the California Department of Justice in downtown Los Angeles held by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city and county officials.
“We allege that SoCalGas violated California public nuisance laws, California health and safety codes: and those relate to the unlawful discharge of air contaminates that cause a nuisance or injury to a considerable number of people,” Becerra said. “And a failure to timely report the release of hazardous material.”
The settlement is not related to a separate class action lawsuit involving around 9,000 plaintiffs that has been filed again SoCalGas.
“But I want to make sure it’s clear this does not resolve another crucial component that resulted from this incident, and that is the personal harm and injury and damages that Angelenos suffered as a result of this leak… that litigation is ongoing, and it involves hundreds of lawsuits and thousands of litigants at this very moment,” Becerra said.
The settlement also does not resolve the cause of the leak, which is being investigated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
“That is under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission,” Becerra said. “And they are right now in the process of doing the investigative work to come out with an answer to the root cause of this particular incident.”
Government officials said the settlement includes $25 million for a long-term health study of the people impacted by the leak, which is something that county health officials have been calling for. The settlement also prevents SoCalGas from passing the costs associated with the settlement onto ratepayers.
Beginning in October 2015, the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility spewed about 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and led to the temporary relocation of about 7,000 Porter Ranch-area residents. The leak was not capped until February 2016.
The leak occurred in an over 60-year-old well, one of 115 wells at a vacant oil field that was converted in the 1970s to store gas a mile-and-a-half underground where crude oil had been removed. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the West.
The leak led to mass complaints of health issues ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to nausea and cancer; issues that persisted after the leak was capped.
Limited operations resumed at the facility in late July 2017 with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.
Last year, SoCalGas reached an $8.5 million settlement with South Coast Air Quality Management District over the leak, which included $1 million in funding for an SCAQMD-sponsored health study on the impacts of the leak, although county health officials said that $35 million to $40 million would be needed for an adequate study.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)