LOS ANGELES (AP) – A utility responsible for a massive gas leak that drove thousands of families from their Los Angeles homes pleaded no contest to a criminal charge Tuesday as part of a $4 million settlement with prosecutors.
The deal requires Southern California Gas Co. to adopt an expensive leak-monitoring system at its Aliso Canyon facility that goes beyond federal and state requirements, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
“The protections put in place by this agreement create a safer facility for its employees, the environment and the surrounding communities,” Lacey said in a statement.
The company pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the gas leak to state officials when it was discovered Oct. 23. Prosecutors said the utility waited three days before notifying the state Office of Emergency Services.
The well that wasn’t plugged until February led more than 8,000 families to move out of their homes in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley. Many complained of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea during the event that scientists said was the largest known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.
The settlement includes the maximum fine of $75,000, plus a penalty of $232,000.
The brunt of the figure, though, comes from the installation and maintenance of an infrared leak-detection system. The district attorney said that is expected to cost more than $1 million to install and more than $2 million to staff and monitor with six full-time employees over the next three years.
SoCalGas issued a statement saying the settlement was “another important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community.”