News Room

Not enough safeguards in place to reopen gas field in Porter Ranch

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

Porter Ranch residents feel dismayed and angry after two state agencies decided to allow SoCal Gas to restart operations at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field. It appears state officials have prioritized energy reliability over public safety. SoCal Gas could resume operations within a week without the completion of an extensive health study on the people who were sickened during the massive gas leak in 2015.

Los Angeles county leaders, state lawmakers and environmentalists strongly oppose the move to reopen Aliso Canyon. Even Governor Jerry Brown has called for it to be closed down permanently. Yet the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources claim operations at the field will be different from before the gas well blowout.

As Porter Ranch residents still struggle with a myriad of medical conditions, the gas company they believe is responsible for their health issues now claims to be a victim. Earlier this month, SoCal Gas inexplicably filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County and the workplace safety agency, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for imposing new safety standards aimed at preventing a future gas rupture.

SoCal Gas filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, with the hope of shutting down a county investigation into the best way for gas operations to coexist safely with the communities they inhabit. The corporation claims the county and the state are engaging in “improper actions preempted by federal and state law” by attempting to impose new safety rules which violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act.   

As an attorney representing hundreds of people who are suffering from ailments such as nosebleeds, nausea and vertigo, this attempt by SoCal Gas to shut down efforts to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again shows the company’s blatant disregard for public safety and lack of any remorse for its wrongdoing.

SoCal Gas owns the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Porter Ranch that spewed more than 100,000 tons of methane and other gases into the area between October 2015-February 2016.

More than eight thousand residents temporarily relocated to escape the persistent rotten egg smell that caused reports of illness. The company’s negligent operations and lax oversight of the gas field sparked hundreds of lawsuits involving thousands of plaintiffs who are claiming physical, psychological and economic damages.

LA County has its own lawsuit against SoCal Gas intended to force the company to further strengthen its safety standards, maintenance procedures and inspection processes beyond the federal government’s requirements. In California, federal pipeline and gas storage rules are enforced by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

In an effort to safeguard the community, the county wants to make sure SoCal Gas equips its wells with subterranean safety valves that could shut off immediately if the gas well is compromised. County officials also want an earthquake assessment done on the Aliso Canyon gas field to determine the risks of rupture, before resuming operations. SoCal Gas objects because it’s not required under federal law. The company is also against a proposed “Strike Team” that would investigate health and safety risks associated with gas storage and could propose new zoning controls on gas fields and pipelines.

Meantime, an effort by the California Legislature to prevent reopening of the wells has stalled in the state senate. In a show of bipartisanship, Democratic Senator Henry Stern, who represents Porter Ranch, and Sen. Scott Wilk, a Santa Clarita Republican, co-authored SB 57, which would have extended the moratorium on gas injections and withdrawals at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field until an impartial study identified the cause of the 2015 well rupture. I strongly support this legislation and would have worked to lobby the passage of this bill in Sacramento.   

This decision to restart gas operations without proper safeguards in place appears to harken back to a bygone era when energy giants call the shots. This move disregards the families who are suffering from sickness and puts the desire for profits above the safety of people.

A mass tort is a civil action that involves a large group of plaintiffs who’ve suffered injuries and consolidate their cases to sue one or a few corporations in state or federal court.

In U.S. federal courts, mass tort claims are frequently consolidated as multidistrict litigation. While the plaintiffs may live in different geographical locations, they share a common injury or damage. KBK has many years of experience handling mass tort cases and multi-district litigation. If you or a loved one has experienced injuries due to a disaster, a dangerous drug or a defective product, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Kabateck LLP to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options.