LOS ANGELES (AP) – Thousands of families sick and forced to leave their Los Angeles homes after the nation’s largest known natural gas leak hits a settlement of up to $ 1.8 billion with a utility, have lawyers said Monday.
The settlement with Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, will compensate 35,000 plaintiffs from the 2015 eruption which took nearly four months to control.
The Aliso Canyon eruption resulted in the largest known methane release in US history and has been blamed for making thousands of residents who left their homes near the San Fernando Valley escape sulphurous odor and illnesses such as headache, nausea and nosebleeds.
The plaintiffs alleged bodily injury due to their illnesses and property damage to their homes. SoCalGas spent more than $ 1 billion on the eruption, with most going to temporarily relocate 8,000 families. The utility has faced more than 385 lawsuits on behalf of 48,000 people.
“Our goal has always been to achieve justice for the men, women and children who have been abandoned by SoCalGas in every turn of this disaster,” lawyer Brian Panish said in a statement.
The plaintiffs alleged that they sustained bodily injury and property damage after the failure of a natural gas storage well and the uncontrollable release of nearly 100,000 tonnes of methane and other substances into the atmosphere in 118 days.
SoCalGas said it would record an after-tax charge of about $ 1.1 billion this month and expects total settlement payments of up to $ 1.85 billion. The deal is submitted to about 97% of complainants who accept it and could be reduced if fewer of them agree.
“These agreements are an important step that will help the community and our business put this difficult chapter behind us,” said Scott Drury, CEO of SoCalGas.
Matt Pakucko, founder of Save Porter Ranch, released a statement reiterating his call for a permanent shutdown of the facility, where natural gas is stored under a mountain in former vacant oil wells.
“You cannot put a price on human suffering,” he said. “The devastating eruption of SoCalGas will never be behind us until the Aliso Canyon storage facility is closed and the danger it poses to the community is permanently eliminated. We are far from a resolution.
State regulators found that the gas company had failed to investigate previous well failures at the storage site and did not properly assess the disaster potential of its aging wells prior to the October 23 blowout. 2015.
SoCalGas previously reached a $ 120 million legal settlement with the state attorney general and agreed to a $ 4 million settlement with Los Angeles County prosecutors after being convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court for failing to report the leak promptly to state authorities.