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Independent Company Determined that Negligence by SoCalGas Caused the 2015 Aliso Canyon Blowout

Almost 43 months after well SS-25 caused the largest gas leak in US history, the root cause analysis was released by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The 258-page Blade Energy Partners report concluded that the operator of the Aliso Canyon storage facility, Southern California Gas, caused the 111-day blowout through its negligence.

Click here to view the whole Root Cause Analysis Report.

Among the findings was that over the years since the facility opened in 1973, that there has been more than 60 casing leaks, that SoCalGas failed to investigate any of these leaks, and that SoCalGas did not perform any risk assessment of wells’ integrity, including on SS-25. There were also 99 casing failures found among the 114 wells reviewed by Blade. There were two previous blowouts in 1984 and 1990.

The cause of the 2015 blowout was attributed to microbial corrosion from contact with groundwater. In fact, many of the wells have shown to have some shallow external corrosion.

In the report, twelve “mitigation solutions” were identified that “would have mitigated or prevented the uncontrolled release.”

Blade Energy produced this video to illustrate what happened with well SS-25:

One item of interest is the use of subsurface safety valves. It is widely known that SoCalGas had removed the SSSV from well SS-25 in 1979, but wasn’t replaced. The report mentioned that regulations didn’t require this device in this specific well at that time. But according to page 201, this has been somewhat changed.

Blade reviewed the November 2018 California Statutes and Regulations [74], which were revised and issued in November 2018 after the SS-25 casing leak, and the most recent version of the California Statutes and Regulations issued in January 2019 [75]…: Section 1726.3: A risk management plan…shall include protocols for well construction and design standards, evaluating the need for surface and subsurface safety valves, scheduling and demonstration of the mechanical integrity of each well and corrosion and casing pressure monitoring.

One aspect that wasn’t addressed by this report was the presence of the Santa Susana fault as one reason that, even with stringent regulations, the residents of the northern San Fernando Valley have a valid reason to feel that Aliso Canyon’s gas storage site needs to be closed permanently. One well SS 4–0 was damaged during the 1994 earthquake and had to be sealed. The quake that’s predicted to hit Southern California at any time will be a much stronger one, that maybe at least registering 7.0 on the Richter scale. There was a reference to an “Aliso Canyon: Regional and Local Seismic Events Analysis” listed as a supplemental report that could not be found in this document.

For Jane Fowler, a member of the Aliso Canyon Community Action Committee, this report validated her feeling about SoCalGas’s dishonesty and lack of integrity. She asked, “Why wouldn’t they want to keep their equipment maintained? Why would they let their facility crumble beneath them, allowing toxins to spew into the water, land, and air?”

Attorney Patricia Oliver discusses the mystery chemical composition of Aliso Canyon gas.

At a press conference, the report’s effect on the mass tort lawsuit was discussed by two of the lawyers representing residents and firefighters. This week, lawyers representing both sides will be in court discussing post-well kill document production, deposition of Aliso victims in court, and other issues.

A separate legal action concerning restitution for the Aliso victims will go before the second district appellate court just a few hours later.

Brian Panish of the law firm Panish Shea and Boyle discussed the Blade Report. In referring to the Sempra Energy press release, Panish pointed out that nowhere in the statement was any attribution to a specific person., despite the heavy use of quotations.

He said that the Blade Report concluded “that SCG failed to follow well integrity regulations exposing Porter Ranch and this community to significant well failures.” Additionally, the gas company never attempted to find out the reasons why sixty of its wells had failed over the years. In addition, SoCalGas lacked a risk failure plan to ensure any leaks didn’t happen again.

The Blade Report, the attorney continued, mentioned some 12 safety enhancements that would prevent the recurrence of a blowout, but stated that it’s not known if SoCalGas had compiled with even seven of those recommendations.

Panish said that there was quite a bit of passing the buck when it came to SoCalGas and the CPUC. And that SoCalGas has continued its pattern of obfuscation, deflection and refusing to confirm to the authorities whether or not these changes were implemented.

The next speaker, Patricia Oliver, from the Parris Law Firm, pointed out that from the beginning of the blowout, the residents of Porter Ranch asked, “What was in the gas that came into our homes.” She added that “We now know that they were exposed to the gas for decades.” She explained one of the plaintiffs, Demetrius Crump, is suffering from stage IV esophageal cancer, diagnosed in 2015, and his low blood count precluded attendance at this press conference

The gas company’s response may be that the stored gas is clean after going through a washing process, but there’s still native gas from the original oil wells that was never cleaned, Oliver said. The attorney also referred to the Proposition 65 warning that SoCalGas is required to post on its website, that the storage facility contains materials that cause cancer and birth defects. Yet that was not the message given by the utility during the blowout. Residents were told “natural gas is nontoxic. That’s false. We need to pull the layers on the onion back and need to understand once and for all so that I can answer my clients’ questions. So that individuals like Mr. Crump can go to their doctors and get the health care they need,” she added.

Oliver also referred to a bill SB-463, introduced by Senator Henry Stern, which “improves the reporting and characterization of chemical materials found and in use at natural gas storage wells, as specified.” This bill will require gas storage operators to include a complete chemical inventory of materials used in or on wells, regularly report on the chemical composition of stored gas, develop a plan, that in the event of a leak, monitor emissions from the wells and related equipment, and for “reportable leaks,” provide the chemical composition of the leak which will be posted online. At this time, the bill is circulating through Senate committees.

Oliver is also representing the 65 active and retired firefighters who are suing SoCalGas.

Former LA county district attorney Steve Cooley then spoke about Thursday’s appeal in the restitution case against SoCal Gas. He called the Blade Report very timely. What it basically says is that “Southern California Gas was negligent or reckless in maintaining those wells and it caused great harm,” he said.

He explained that Marsy’s Law mandates restitution where there’s a criminal act and there’s harm. This law was approved by voters in 2008, and is delineated in Article I, Section 28(c) of the California constitution.

The case concerned misdemeanor criminal charges filed by the county over SoCalGas’s failure to timely report the existence of a leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. The gas company was allowed to plead no contest in September 2016 to one of the charges, while the other charges were dismissed. Then the court denied the victims’ request for restitution.

Then the appellate division of the state supreme court “bought into the gas company’s lies.” Cooley countered that restitution can be and should be ordered when there’s a criminal conviction.” He called this another step in a long process to bring justice to the many, many victims. Damages done to them, the losses they’ve suffered because of the negligence and recklessness of SoCalGas.”

The Second District Court of Appeal will now hear the case. Cooley calls this “another step in a long process to bring justice to the many, many victims for the damage down to them, the losses they’ve suffered because of the negligence and recklessness of Southern California Gas.”

Members of Save Porter Ranch, the Aliso Canyon Community Action Committee, and San Fernando Valley residents after the May 20th press conference near the SoCalGas gate

The final speaker was Matt Pakucko, the president and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, who said, “Governor Newsom, if this wasn’t your cue to shut this facility down, I don’t know what is.” He pointed out that no regulation is going to make the San Fernando Valley safe from SoCalGas. “In fact, the SB-380 so-called overhaul of that facilty” didn’t make the gas storage site safe. He also pointed out that immediately after DOGGR certified the site was safe to resume operations, about 33 percent of the wells immediately had problems. He also pointed out that at the beginning of this year, corrosion was found in a third of the wells.

“We’re more uneasy now, living in our homes, knowing in great detail what this company is capable of, and how often they can fail for so long and not do a damn thing about it. We don’t know what harm can come to us from that facility any day now.” He added that there’s been plenty of leaks that have been documented.

He also pointed out that SoCalGas also operates two other facilities that have not faced this kind of scrutiny and are much older than Aliso

He also reminded the some fifty persons present that Save Porter Ranch has been actively working to permanently close the facility.

When a reporter asked about what impact the Blade Report has on the lawsuits Panish replied that it reemphasizes everything that “we know, but we didn’t know that they had sixty prior failures, as well as other new info. It’s a higher level of action, it’s gross negligence, almost intentional, a Russian Roulette they’re playing with everyone’s lives.”

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Patty Crost Glueck

Patty Crost Glueck

Finally using her J-school degree for good. #CountdownToShutDown2020 Aliso Canyon