Environment & Science

SoCal Gas appeals gas leak-related safety violations

File: An overhead photo shows the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad near the Porter Ranch community on Dec. 17, 2015.
File: An overhead photo shows the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad near the Porter Ranch community on Dec. 17, 2015.
Earthworks via Flickr Creative Commons

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Southern California Gas Company has appealed penalties imposed by Cal-OSHA for alleged violations of workplace safety at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field. That's where a blown-out well forced thousands of Porter Ranch households to move away for months in order to avoid the smell and potential health problems.

Cal-OSHA inspectors cited the company on June 10 for six violations of safe working conditions that happened since Oct. 23, when the leaking well was discovered at the gas field in the Santa Susana Mountains above Northridge

The company appealed the findings on June 27. It said that safety rules were not violated, that the enforcement of the rules was too late and that the Federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act preempted the citations based on state work hazard rules.

"We do not believe these citations have merit and we have filed an appeal," said company spokesman Chris Gilbride.

The violations, if upheld by the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board, could draw penalties totaling $60,800. It's not uncommon for companies to negotiate lower penalties during the appeals process or get them waived.

Three serious alleged violations

Inspectors found that the SoCal Gas incident commander overseeing the response to the ruptured natural gas well did not have the minimum 24 hours of first responder training that state work safety laws require. The incident commander also didn't know know to implement the company's incident command system, according to the citation. That shortcoming drew a, $8,100 penalty.

Two other serious violations, drawing separate $25,000 penalties, said the company failed to comply with testing and inspection requirements, and to do the necessary work to prevent leaks at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field.

The company failed to ensure that the testing and inspection of piping and casings complied with testing and inspection requirements, the citation said. That violation, also tagged serious, carries a $25,000 penalty. The SoCal Gas appeal said the requirement to fix those problems by June 20 was unreasonable.

In its response to the three serious violations, SoCal Gas said the rules were not violated and that the citations were wrongly classified as serious. The company said the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act preempts the citations for violating the state's laws on hazardous waste operations and emergency response. Plus, the citations were issued too late to be valid, the appeal said.

Three lesser violations

Cal-OSHA cited three lesser violations, each carrying a $900 penalty. SoCal Gas said the company did not violate any of the state safety orders in those cases.

The citation said the company didn't have records that fire extinguishers had been inspected, and failed to make sure that the extinguishers near leaking well SS-25 were operable. In the appeal, SoCal Gas said it was not the company responsible for placing or maintaining the fire extinguishers.

Two other violations alleged it failed to post a permit to weld around the new relief well, and to clean oil spray that created a slipping hazard on work platforms around the leaking well. SoCal Gas' appeal said the Cal-OSHA inspectors were issuing the citation too late for it to be valid.

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