Miller Barondess Files Lawsuit Against SoCalGas on behalf of Los Angeles County as Covered by Los Angeles Daily News

Photo by Dakota Smith: Attorney Skip Miller announces a lawsuit on behalf of Los Angeles County against SoCalGas at a news conference on Monday, July 25, 2016.

By Dakota Smith/Los Angeles Daily News

July 25, 2016

Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit Monday against Southern California Gas Company to try and force the utility to install safety valves at its gas wells.

The civil suit asks the court to order SoCalGas to install sub-surface safety shut-off valves at all of its county wells. The utility operates over 200 natural wells at four gas storage fields in Los Angeles County, according to the suit.

Attorney Skip Miller, counsel for Los Angeles County, said Monday’s lawsuit marks the county’s first independent legal action against SoCalGas over the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak, which spewed 100,000 metric tons of methane. The suit alleges public nuisance and seeks unspecified damages.

“It’s just not acceptable to the (Board of Supervisors) for this to ever happen again in Los Angeles County,” said Miller, who was joined at Monday’s press conference by Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said the utility hasn’t yet reviewed the lawsuit. The storage facility was in compliance with state regulations at the time of the leak, he added.

“SoCalGas has and will continue to support reasonable, forward-looking, regulatory policies,” Gilbride said. “Such policies are set by our regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal levels of government.”

Natural gas began leaking from one of Aliso Canyon’s wells in October in the worst methane leak in U.S. history, displacing thousands of residents and costing the county $1 million in expenses, the lawsuit states.

The leak would have been “substantially limited” if a safety valve had been installed at the Aliso Canyon well site, according to the suit. But the utility didn’t replace or repair a safety valve that was damaged in 1979, the lawsuit states.

“Instead, SoCalGas knowingly left the well vulnerable to the catastrophic leak that recently occurred,” the lawsuit states.

Monday’s lawsuit comes months after state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) introduced a bill requiring require all “urban wells” to have safety shut-off valves at gas storage wells. The proposed legislation is still in committee, Pavley’s office said Monday.

Additionally, the state’s Department of Conservation (DOC) earlier this month released updated draft regulations for natural gas storage wells in response to the leak. Included in the recommendations are the installation of sub-surface safety valves.

Supervisor Antonovich expressed frustration with the utility Monday, accusing SoCalGas of failing to reimburse residents who were impacted by the leak. He said the lawsuit is part of a push to ensure that SoCalGas protects its county gas pipes.

“They have a responsibility to make sure that they’re going to be safe,” Antonovich said.

Los Angeles County in January joined a lawsuit filed by the L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer against SoCalGas. The suit alleges the gas leak threatened residents’ health and hurt the environment.