California Joins Lawsuit Over Natural Gas Leak

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By Carolyn Whetzel

Feb. 2 — The California Attorney General's Office took action Feb. 2 against Southern California Gas Co. over the ongoing leak at the utility's underground natural gas storage field near Los Angeles.

Southern California Gas Co., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, “violated state health and safety laws by failing to promptly control the release of natural gas and report the leak to authorities,” caused a public health and statewide environmental emergency and released more than 80,000 metric tons of methane posing a threat to the state's effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the Attorney General's Office said in a Feb. 2 statement.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed documents in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County to intervene in a legal enforcement action Los Angeles city and county attorneys previously filed against SoCalGas. The filing includes an amended complaint on behalf of the California Air Resources Board and the local prosecutors.

Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer welcomed the attorney general's action. The “action today is a significant step in the ongoing effort to hold Southern California Gas accountable, end this public health emergency and ensure it never happens again,” he said in a statement.

Harris's amended complaint is among more than a dozen lawsuits filed since November over the leaking damaged well SoCalGas discovered Oct. 23. All the cases are being consolidated with a putative class action Richard McCune of McCuneWright LLP and Taras Kick of the Kick Law Firm APC brought on behalf nearby residents (Gandsey v. S. Cal. Gas. Co. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. BC 601844, 11/23/15).

Air Quality Violations Alleged

The attorney general is alleging violations air quality laws that bar discharges of pollutants at levels that create a public nuisance or cause injury, laws that require immediate reporting of releases hazardous materials and unfair business practices. Much of the complaint addressed the potential climate change and health impacts of the leak.

Harris is seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief to require SoCalGas to mitigate the leak's harmful impacts, similar those the South Coast Air Quality Management District is pursuing in a related action .

Residents in Porter Ranch and other neighborhoods near the facility in Aliso Canyon have reported headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, dizziness and other ailments the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said can be caused to exposure to odorants used in natural gas.

“This gas leak has caused significant damage to the Porter Ranch community as well as our statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the impacts of climate change,” Harris said. “My office will continue to lead this cross-jurisdictional enforcement action to ensure justice and relief for Californians and our environment.”

SoCalGas is drilling a relief well to cap the leak, a project it expects to be completed by the end of February.

Meanwhile, the utility is temporarily relocating residents, installing air scrubbers and weatherizing homes.

“We are working hard to both stop the leak and to address our neighbors' concerns,” Kristine Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the utility, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 2 e-mail. “Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process.”

Robert Wyman of Latham & Watkins LLP in Los Angeles is representing the utility.

Emissions Decreasing

Levels of emissions at the facility have decreased over time, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a Jan. 31 report. While methane levels in the nearby community are above those normally observed, they “are below flammable levels and are not expected to cause any health effects,” the report said. The odorants in the gas are below detection levels but still may cause the short-term ill-health effects being reported, the county said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at