Southern California Gas to pay $4-million settlement over massive Porter Ranch gas leak

Southern California Gas Co. agreed to pay $4 million to settle criminal charges over the massive gas leak near Porter Ranch last year, but the utility still faces potentially costly civil actions from both residents and regulators.

The settlement ends a prosecution brought  by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which accused the gas company of failing to properly notify authorities when the largest recorded methane leak in U.S. history first occurred. The leak forced thousands of residents to flee their homes for months as officials worked to cap the leak.

The gas company pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of failing to immediately notify the California Office of Emergency Services and Los Angeles County Fire Department of the leak that began on or around Oct. 23, 2015, in the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field.

The leak has cost the utility more than $700 million, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But the utility is still dealing with more than 100 lawsuits representing thousands of residents, some of whom say the leak caused health problems and reduced the value of their homes.

The gas company also faces a lawsuit by the California attorney general, who accused the company of  violating the state’s health and safety laws by failing to promptly control the leak and alert authorities. That lawsuit seeks financial penalties, as does a third case brought by Los Angeles. Los Angeles County sued to force the utility to install safety valves on its wells. And the South Coast Air Quality Management District is also seeking a fine from the company.

It’s unclear how much this will end up costing the utility. Gas officials told federal regulators that they are insured for as much as $1 billion.

The settlement with L.A. prosecutors includes a host of safety measures that go beyond what is already required by state and local laws. 

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