Southern California Gas Co. reached an $8.5 million settlement today to resolve a lawsuit filed against the utility by the South Coast Air Quality Management District over the four-month leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch.
The settlement of the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2016, includes funding for a AQMD-sponsored health study on the impacts of the leak.
"Consistent with the commitment we made last year, SoCalGas has agreed to fund AQMD's health study. We are pleased to have worked with AQMD to settle this and other matters," according to a statement from the utility.
According to AQMD, $1 million of the settlement will go toward the health study.
"We are pleased to immediately kick off the process for an independent health study," said Wayne Nastri, AQMD executive officer. "This study will build upon existing health information and help inform the community about potential health impacts from the gas leak."
Another $5.65 million of the settlement amount will cover emission fees related to the leak, $1.6 million will reimburse AQMD for air-monitoring costs and $250,000 will cover legal fees.
Of the $5.65 million for emission fees, $1 million will be used to fund a "renewable natural gas production project" to demonstrate the viability of renewable gas, potentially reducing the need for underground natural-gas storage, such as that done at Aliso Canyon, AQMD officials said.
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A four-month gas leak at the Porter Ranch facility from October 2015 to February 2016 spewed 109,000 metric tons of methane into the air and displaced thousands of residents.
Officials with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission have recommended that gas injections resume at the facility, but at reduced amounts and lower pressure levels than those requested by SoCalGas.
State regulators held two public meetings last week on the proposal to allow the utility to resume injecting natural gas at Aliso, but one of the meetings was cut short due to shouting by hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents who want to stop the re-opening.
A judge in November approved a $4 million settlement that resolved criminal charges against SoCalGas, with the utility pleading no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the leak, which began Oct. 23, 2015 and was capped in mid-February 2016.
That settlement requires SoCalGas to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site -- estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million -- and to retain an outside company to test and certify that the monitoring system and real-time pressure monitors to be placed at each gas well are working properly. It also required the hiring of a half-dozen full-time employees to operate and maintain the new leak-detection systems.
The agreement also called for the company to revise and adopt new reporting policies for actual and threatened releases of hazardous materials to the appropriate agencies, and mandates training courses on proper notification procedures for all of the utility's employees who work at natural gas storage facilities within Los Angeles County.