Natural gas leak leads to criminal charges

Over 100 days after the beginning of a natural gas leak near the the Porter Ranch neighborhood, criminal charges are being brought against Southern California Gas Company. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has filed charges due to failing to immediately report the natural gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to proper authorities, her office announced Tuesday. Southern California Gas Company is being charged with four misdemeanor counts: three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous material from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26 and one count for the discharge of air contaminants starting Oct. 23 through the present, according to the complaint.

In late November, 58,000 kilograms of methane per hour have been leaking into the atmosphere due to the breach. Since then, the natural gas leak has released emissions equivalent to burning more than 862,000 gallons of gasoline.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and can leak almost anywhere in the supply chain. Methane leaks like this, are a contributing factor to climate change and the overall warming of the environment. Figures from 2007 showed that there are about 400 underground methane storage sites like Aliso Canyon (Southern California Gas Co. current major leak), and these storage facilities are poorly regulated. There’s little federal oversight of such facilities, and the state is not consistent with enforcing regulations. This lack of oversight creates opportunities for such large leaks to go unnoticed and in this case, unaddressed for so long. Souther California Gas Company say that the leak will finally be stopped by late this month, but the methane will linger in the atmosphere, most likely for decades.

The gas company could be fined up to $25,000 a day for each day that it failed to notify the California Office of Emergency Services and up to $1,000 per day for air pollution violations.

“It is important that Southern California Gas Co. be held responsible for its criminal actions… We will do everything we can as prosecutors to help ensure that the Aliso Canyon facility is brought into compliance,” stated District Attorney Jackie Lacey in a written statement.  “I believe we can best serve our community using the sanctions available through a criminal conviction to prevent similar public health threats in the future.”

Arraignment for the company is set for Feb. 17 at the Santa Clarita Branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Article via fivethirtyeight.com, 3 February, 2016; Daily News, 2 February 2016

Photo Demonstrating On The Leak by Greenpeace USA [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

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About the author: Astrid Countee

Astrid Countee
Astrid is an Anthropologist, Data Analyst and Software Engineer who has always felt like a writer. She enjoys telling stories about science and technology and their effect on humanity. When she is not writing, she can be found reading and curled up with a cup of tea.

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