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Environmental, local advocates pan SoCalGas' $119.5M Aliso Canyon settlement

Environmental and residents' groups criticized Sempra Energy utility Southern California Gas Co.'s $119.5 million settlement with state and local government bodies in California, saying the deal inadequately protects residents after the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility's multi-month leak.

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra addressed the settlement in an Aug. 8 news conference in Los Angeles.

Source: Associated Press

Alexandra Nagy, a Southern California organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, argued that the agreement represents a failure to benefit those directly affected by the incident. In October 2015, Southern California Gas, or SoCalGas, discovered a well breach leaking a high volume of gas. The leak was not plugged until February 2016.

"SoCalGas is unfairly benefiting from this agreement by getting over $26 million in subsidies to import gas from polluting factory farms, which it wants to use to refill Aliso Canyon, which still leaks regularly," Nagy said in an Aug. 8 statement. "This settlement, in addition to Governor [Jerry] Brown's refusal to shut Aliso Canyon down permanently, demonstrates his preference for protecting SoCalGas instead of public health in the San Fernando Valley."

Since SoCalGas plugged the leak and sealed the well, the California Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources have mandated that the facility operator test all remaining wells in the field and remove any failing wells from service. Aliso Canyon in 2017 resumed injecting natural gas into storage wells, and the CPUC in July allowed SoCalGas to increase Aliso Canyon volumes to up to 34 Bcf, a boost from the state's previous 24.6-Bcf limit on the field but well below its historical capacity of about 86 Bcf.

Save Porter Ranch, a group focused on the neighborhood that was most directly affected by the leak, agreed with Food & Water Watch that the settlement neglects residents from Porter Ranch and other communities near Aliso Canyon that were forced to relocate upon the leak's discovery and complained of of headaches, nausea and dizziness.

"This was a bad settlement," President Matt Pakucko said in an interview. "It makes SoCalGas look like saviors of the air of the state of California rather than as the contaminators that they are."

During an Aug. 8 news conference with state and local officials, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra acknowledged that the settlement does not cover personal injury and property damage, which are pending litigation, or the leak's root cause, which the CPUC is still investigating. Still, he said the settlement works in the public's interest.

The deal will "help California meet its ambitious climate goals by advancing projects that capture methane from dairy farms and waste and convert that energy into renewable natural gas for use in transportation," SoCalGas President and COO Bret Lane said Aug. 8.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat whose congressional district includes the San Fernando Valley, said the agreement does not take the need for more than one major gas storage facility in the Los Angeles area into account. "What's missing from this settlement is that we cannot continue to have a natural gas storage facility that is too big to fail," he said in an Aug. 8 statement. "We must reduce the pressure under the ground of Aliso Canyon, and we must reduce the pressure to use only Aliso Canyon."

Under the settlement, announced Aug. 8, SoCalGas will reimburse government agencies for costs associated with the leak, establish programs to mitigate emissions from the event and fund local initiatives for environmental benefit, including a comprehensive health study.