Environment & Science

SoCal Gas fined $2.25 million for safety violations far from Porter Ranch

Equipment and machinery is seen on a ridge above a natural gas well at Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon facility near Porter Ranch.
Equipment and machinery is seen on a ridge above a natural gas well at Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon facility near Porter Ranch.
Scott Liebenson via Flickr Creative Commons

State utility regulators have fined Southern California Gas Company $2.25 million over delayed fixes on corrosion control systems found during inspections of gas operations in the Harbor Area and Mid-City.

The inspections by the Safety Enforcement Division for the California Public Utilities Commission took place in April and May 2015. That was months before a gas well blew out at the company's massive Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in the north end of the San Fernando Valley near Porter Ranch. That well rupture was discovered in October, and led to the uncontrolled release of more than 5 billion cubic feet of natural gas and the continued relocation of more than 2,000 families outside the area.

The CPUC regulates gas utility equipment above ground. The citation, issued Friday, found 45 violations. SoCal Gas has until May 23 to correct the violations or submit a plan for corrections, and to pay the fine. The company may also appeal the fine and citation. 

Regulators say the company failed to take prompt action to fix corrosion problems in 125 instances between 2011 and 2015. The CPUC defines a "prompt" fix as one that occurs before the next regular monitoring. The fines were issued for 45 of those instances where the company delayed fixes for two years or more, according to the citation.

"This violation presented unacceptable risk to safe operations prior to corrective action," the citation said. The violations were not self-reported by SoCal Gas, but were a result of the Safety Enforcement Division's inspections of the company's operations in its Harbor and Mid-City Los Angeles Districts.

The violations were for failing to fix systems known as cathodic protection packages that are installed outside pipes to keep them from corroding.

Of the 45 cathodic protection systems that were the subject of the violations, 40 had been repaired, and the remaining five were “being actively worked on and are expected to operate normally within the next few months,” said company spokeswoman Melissa Bailey. The violations stemmed from the delayed maintenance of corrosion prevention systems, and not from actual corrosion of pipes or casings.

Cathodic protection systems apply a very small electrical current to a buried steel pipeline to reduce corrosion from the elements. SoCal Gas has more than 20,000 such systems in its gas distribution network.

"Even when the cathodic protection system is not meeting federal criteria, corrosion is still being minimized, due to a lower level of current being applied to the pipeline,” Bailey said.

“Safety is our number one priority and we take the cited violations very seriously,” she said. "As the Commission noted in the citation, the violation was not willful and SoCalGas has taken responsibility at the highest levels to address the issue by actively implementing system-wide corrective actions.”

Federal regulations required the cathodic protection systems to be tested at least once each calendar year, but with no more than 15 months elapsing between inspections, said PUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon. 

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the violations were for corroded pipe casings. KPCC regrets the error.