Thousands of residents harmed by the 2015 and 2016 natural gas leak in Southern California settled with Sempra Energy. The company will pay 35,000 plaintiffs in a lawsuit nearly $1.8 billion. The largest known release of methane in the U.S., the incident took months to control and led to property damage and illnesses.
The Country’s Worst Gas Leak
The incident began in 2015 and carried over into 2016. For several months, a natural gas storage well leaked gas after a blowout. The leak occurred in an Aliso Canyon facility and released gas for nearly four months.
About two months into the incident, California’s governor declared it a state of emergency. The blowout released tens of thousands of kilograms every hour during the crisis. In one month, the well was responsible for a quarter o the state’s methane output.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, but for residents in the area, the damage was immediate. They reported headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. Schools had to shut down in the area to keep children safe.
The Lawsuit Over Personal Injuries and Property Damage
Thousands of residents in the areas of the San Fernando Valley near the Aliso Canyon well became sick because of the release of gas into the air. Many also suffered property damage and the costs of being forced to relocate until the well could be capped.
Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, Spent nearly $1 billion on the well blowout. Much of this went to compensating people for relocation costs.
The families and individuals harmed by the incident wanted more than relocation reimbursement. They wanted justice and damages for their health concerns and damaged homes. Victims started nearly 400 lawsuits, which included about 48,000 people.
The plaintiffs alleged that Sempra and SoCalGas downplayed the risks of being exposed to thousands of tons of methane. The company didn’t even warn residents or local officials about the leak until several days had passed. Natural gas is invisible, so residents did not see the leak but could smell it and suffered health effects.
Sempra worked with the plaintiffs’ legal teams to come up with a settlement agreement of about $1.8 billion in total. The deal requires agreement from about 97% of plaintiffs. If too many refuse the deal, the amount could be lower. Some of the plaintiffs want to see the facility shut down permanently as part of the deal.
In addition to the settlement with residents, SoCalGas and Sempra also agreed to settlements with the state and Los Angeles County. The state attorney general agreed to a $120 million settlement, while county prosecutors agreed to $4 million. They found that the company failed to adequately investigate previous incidents with their wells. The aging wells inevitably led to the blowout.
After months of symptoms and disruptions due to relocations, the victims finally have justice. The settlement sends a message to other companies that they cannot put the health and safety of residents at risk.