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Calif. judge approves $120M SoCalGas settlement for Aliso Canyon leak

A California judge approved a $120 million settlement between Sempra Energy utility Southern California Gas Co., California and Los Angeles over the massive Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility leak, the Associated Press reported Feb. 25.

Judge Carolyn Kuhl in Los Angeles Superior Court put the settlement into effect despite criticism from some residents and environmental groups. Under the deal, more than 20% of the settlement would be used to fund mitigation efforts to compensate for the 109,000 metric tons of leaked methane from Aliso Canyon. SoCalGas will pay up to $25 million to help reimburse city, county and state governments for the cost of responding to the incident, ongoing chemical monitoring near the facility, and long-term health studies related to the incident. The deal also required the utility to pay $26.5 million for technology that would capture methane from cow manure before it is entered into its natural gas system.

The California Air Resources Board said the settlement focused on dairies, which account for about 25% of the state's methane releases.

"This agreement will mitigate the methane leak itself, and will have a positive impact across California while providing long-term funding for air quality improvements in the parts of the LA basin most directly affected by what happened at Aliso Canyon," Mary Nichols, the board's chair, said.

The Aliso Canyon storage field leak persisted from October 2015 into February 2016 and prompted thousands of area residents to relocate for months.

Earthjustice and other environmental advocates contended that the settlement allows the utility to get credit for greenhouse gas reduction projects that are already partly state funded and are located more than 100 miles from the Aliso Canyon facility. Some California residents also opposed the settlement, arguing that public officials had not been transparent about how the settlement funds would be allocated.

Kuhl noted that her role in governing the settlement was limited. "If I find, as I was supposed to find, that it didn't violate the law or public policy, that's the end of my determination," she said.