Bid to keep site of gas leak shut denied
LOS ANGELES — A California judge on Friday denied a motion to halt the reopening of a large natural-gas storage facility in Los Angeles County that has been offline since a major blowout.
Lawyers for the county had asked Superior Court Judge John Wiley to stop Southern California Gas Co. from restarting operations at Aliso Canyon because of earthquake risks. The judge tentatively ruled against the county, according to court filings made public before a hearing. He made the ruling final during the hearing.
Last week, state regulators gave approval to pump gas into underground storage wells after an overhaul and extensive testing.
Wiley cited two state laws that prevented his interference. He said the Legislature had taken authority away from Superior Court judges to interfere with orders by the California Public Utilities Commission.
“So what’s my power?” Wiley said in explaining his decision in the courtroom. “Zero. I have zero power. Because in the 1950s the Legislature said, ‘Hands off. The PUC owns this problem.’”
The facility above the San Fernando Valley has been largely out of commission since an old well failed in October 2015 and spewed methane for nearly four months, driving residents from 8,000 homes. The blowout released the largest-known amount of methane in U.S. history and led to widespread complaints of nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and symptoms that persisted even after the leak was capped last year.
The county’s lawyer, Skip Miller, disagreed with the judge and asked for a stay so he could go to an appeals court.
State regulators gave approval last week to let Southern California Gas resume more limited operations under stricter rules after the facility underwent a major overhaul and passed rigorous testing.
The county, however, said the state didn’t adequately address the threat of a quake rumbling across the Santa Susana Mountains where the field is.