LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Southern California Gas Co. agreed Wednesday to pay $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit over a well blowout that spewed natural gas for nearly four months and drove thousands of residents from their Los Angeles homes.
The utility signed an agreement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to fund a study about health impacts from the leak, which San Fernando Valley residents have blamed for headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, rashes and other ailments.
AQMD had ordered the utility to fund the study when it issued an order to abate the public nuisance created by the foul-smelling odor that led to hundreds of complaints from residents. It also sued the utility.
"We are pleased to have worked with AQMD to settle this and other matters," the utility said in a statement.
The leak was discovered in October 2015 in one of 115 underground wells in the immense Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. Before the well was capped in February 2016, the well had produced the largest-known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.
Some 8,000 families in and around the Porter Ranch neighborhood fled their homes because of health concerns.
The entire storage field has stopped receiving new gas supplies, but state regulators are looking into reopening it. Less than a third of the wells have passed rigorous inspections ordered after the blowout. The remaining ones have been taken out of service and must pass state-mandated tests within a year or be permanently sealed.
Homeowners want the storage field closed permanently, and they have angrily offered that view at recent public meetings.
A hearing was scheduled for Thursday before a state Senate committee on SB57, a bill that would block reopening the facility until state regulators complete an investigation to determine what caused the well leak.
Under the settlement, Southern California Gas will provide $1 million for the health study; $5.65 million to pay for emission fees related to the leak, with $1 million of that earmarked to fund a renewable natural gas production project; $1.6 million to reimburse the regulatory agency for air monitoring costs and $250,000 for the AQMD's legal fees.
The amount budgeted for the health study was criticized by a group that wants to shut down the Aliso Canyon storage field.
"This is such an insult to the thousands of families in the north San Fernando Valley that are still suffering," Alexandra Nagy of Food and Water Watch wrote in an email. "We will pressure AQMD to give that $4.6M figure back to the community for a real long-term health study."