Southern California Gas Co. has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a case in which it faced a criminal charge associated with its handling of a massive gas leak in Porter Ranch, an affluent neighborhood of Los Angeles, last year.
The utility pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count for failing to immediately report the gas leak to state officials as required by law when it occurred on Oct. 23, 2015. Instead the company waited three days before alerting state emergency officials.
"This agreement ensures that Southern California Gas Co. is held accountable for its criminal actions for failing to immediately report the leak," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.
The gas leak caused about 8,000 families to leave their homes for months. Many displaced residents complained of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea. The leak wasn't capped until February 2016. It is reported to be the largest known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.
The settlement calls for SoCal Gas to pay a maximum fine of $75,000 and a penalty of $232,000. The bulk of the $4 million settlement cost will come from the installation and maintenance of an infrared methane leak detection system, including the hiring of six full-time monitors over the next three years.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the utility still faces civil lawsuits from thousands of Porter Ranch residents, including some who are demanding the closure of the Aliso Canyon facility. But SoCal Gas officials say that facility is an essential part of the company's energy infrastructure.