(AP) — A nearly $120 million settlement has been reached in litigation stemming from a blowout at a Southern California storage field where a massive methane release forced thousands from their homes three years ago, a utility announced Wednesday.
Southern California Gas Co. said the settlement delivers on its commitment to the state following the October 2015 well leak at Aliso Canyon in Los Angeles.
The leak lasted nearly four months and prompted many health complaints. It was the largest single release of methane in U.S. history.
Under the settlement, SoCalGas will reimburse local, county and state governments for costs associated with the blowout. In addition the utility will fund local environmental benefit projects and establish a program with the California Air Resources Board to mitigate the methane emissions from the leak.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials planned to discuss the agreement at a Wednesday press conference.
“There is no excuse for what happened,” Becerra said in a statement. “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.”
He added that the leak undermined California’s crucial work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The agreement, which must be approved by a court, will resolve all claims alleged in lawsuits.
“If approved, this settlement will go a long way in addressing the short and long-term harms attributable to the leak,” Becerra said.
SoCalGas said “comprehensive safety enhancements” have been introduced at Aliso Canyon. The utility also agreed to continue a new methane monitoring program and hire an independent ombudsman to monitor and report on safety at the facility.
Operations at the facility resumed in July 2017. SoCal Gas said it had met and sometimes exceeded the state’s safety requirements, and it needed to increase its inventory at the storage field to avoid an energy shortage.
Los Angeles County unsuccessfully tried to keep the facility closed until it showed it could safely withstand an earthquake. A judge ruled he did not have authority to override a reopen order from the California Public Utilities Commission. Appeals court judges shot down efforts to halt the restart.
State officials said the facility was safe and that the earthquake fears were overblown.