Who pays for Aliso Canyon?


Assembly buries Aliso Canyon aid bill

Sacramento Bee 5-6-16


Following late resistance from business groups, a bill giving Porter Ranch residents more tools to seek legal redress for a gas leak fell far short in the California Assembly on Thursday.  The question is, who will pay for Aliso Canyon?

A leaking well in the affluent Southern California community spewed massive amounts of gas into the atmosphere for months, depressing property values and leading residents to complain of dizziness, vomiting and other symptoms. An effort to expand residents’ ability to bring lawsuits faltered on a 31-27 vote, nowhere near the 41 votes needed for passage. Six Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill, and 19 Democrats withheld votes.

Assembly Bill 2748 specifies that a settlement does not release a polluter from liability, and broadens the statute of limitations to sue for exposure.Who pays for Aliso Canyon methane blowout?

CaliforniaGeo response—

Who pays for Aliso Canyon’s damages?  It would seem that even if you live in an upscale neighborhood like Los Angeles County’s Porter Ranch and disaster strikes—you’re on your own, and compensation has a short window of available time for claims.  While some in the Legislature would like to help with compensation for thousands of people who evacuated their homes, businesses, and schools for four months due to the U.S.’ largest methane storage leak, business priorities need to be served, instead.  Once the disaster sympathy quotes and the photo ops are over, it must be time to circle the legislature’s “business friendly” wagons.


State government may still deal a blow to the disaster’s victims and neighbors when the amount of Air Resources Board fines for the leak are assessed.  Will those costs be laid at the feet of So Cal Gas’ shareholders, or its ratepayers?  And because state regulators will not allow the gas storage field to be maintained at over 20% of full capacity, gas-fired generation of electricity will be curtailed in southern California for at least the air conditioning season of 2016.  Regional electric utilities are trying to secure adequate supplies, but at what increased cost on short notice?  Will those utilities pass on all those increases to ratepayers, or will SoCal’s parent, Sempra Energy send a check?  Forced electricity rationing on the hottest days may happen in the LA Basin this summer.


With methane’s climate damaging potential at 80+ times that of carbon dioxide in the short term, how do southern Californians feel about the pollution restrictions on equipment and industrial processes, spare the air days, and other efforts they’ve made at personal sacrifice?  This one leak over four months spewed climate damage that was in excess of 400,000 cars for a year.  Why are we trying hard at home when the gas company didn’t feel like installing the best safety shut-off equipment when this storage field was developed, decades ago? screen-shot-2015-05-09-at-1-43-53-pm


There are some rich ironies in the aftermath of this disaster.  Southern California Edison was already sourcing new capacity in the wake of the closure of SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station), and only some of it was gas-fired generation.  Like the bulk of the capacity sought to replace Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant (after 2025), grid-scale storage and renewable generation are the majority of the mix, whereas gas-fired plants are not.  And if that’s not lost on you, consider that the remaining purposes for methane combustion are heating space and hot water.  These functions can be handled well by geothermal heat pumps.

Bill Martin