Photo via Southern California Gas Co.
Photo via Southern California Gas Co.

County attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday seeking an order requiring Southern California Gas Co. to install sub-surface safety shut- off valves on all of its gas storage wells in the county.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, which also seeks unspecified damages, is the latest legal battle arising from the four-month leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch. The county contends the severity of the leak could have been drastically reduced if the well was outfitted with a working shut-off valve, noting that the well’s valve broke in 1979 but was never replaced.

SoCalGas officials countered, however, that the Aliso Canyon facility was in full compliance with state regulations when the leak occurred.

“We have yet to review the new complaint that the county announced earlier today,” said Melissa Bailey of SoCalGas. “However, the Aliso Canyon storage facility was in compliance with DOGGR (Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) regulations at the time of the leak, and SoCalGas has and will continue to support reasonable, forward-looking regulatory policies.

“Such policies are set by our regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal levels of government,” she said.

County officials insist that operating the well without a safety valve left it vulnerable to failure.

“The Gas Co. has consistently skirted its responsibilities and placed corporate profits before public safety by failing to make reasonable and necessary improvements to its infrastructure,” Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. “The county’s lawsuit seeks to proactively require the Gas Co. to upgrade its gas wells by installing shut-off valves and other state-of-the-art safety equipment so that another disaster like Aliso Canyon can be prevented.”     The Aliso Canyon leak was discovered in October, and was capped in February after crews dug an 8,600-foot-long relief well. The leak, however, resulted in an estimated 100,000 tons of methane leaking into the air, the worst leak of its type in the country.

Thousands of residents relocated to temporary housing during the leak, and two schools moved classes to different campuses out of the area. A series of lawsuits have already been filed against the Gas Co. by residents.

SoCalGas and the county have been embroiled in an ongoing legal dispute over the temporary housing program and requirements for cleaning homes in the area of the leak. The Gas Co. filed court papers earlier this month asking a judge to end a directive requiring the utility to provide house-cleaning services to homes in the area.

Company officials said SoCalGas had already cleaned about 1,700 homes, and argued there is no lingering health threat to residents.

The Gas Co. operates about 200 natural gas wells in four storage fields in the area, according to the county.

–City News Service 

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