Environment & Science

Los Angeles County DA's office defends $4 million SoCal Gas leak plea deal

File: A sign marking the boundary of the Aliso Canyon storage facility is pictured in Porter Ranch on Jan. 6, 2016.
File: A sign marking the boundary of the Aliso Canyon storage facility is pictured in Porter Ranch on Jan. 6, 2016.
Jonathan Alcorn/AFP/Getty Images

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The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office is pushing back on an attempt by Porter Ranch residents to derail Southern California Gas Company's $4 million plea deal to resolve criminal charges stemming from last year's massive gas leak.

A gas well ruptured in October 2015 at SoCal Gas's Aliso Canyon gas storage field, leaking out of control for four months. It caused two school campuses and some 8,000 households to leave the area temporarily.

After the leak was plugged, the DA brought four misdemeanor criminal counts against SoCal Gas.
    
The plea deal, reached in September, goes to Superior Court Judge Alan S. Rosenfield for approval on Tuesday. It called for the company to pay fines, hire additional staff to monitor the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility and to install new equipment to detect leaks of natural gas. It did not directly compensate any victims.
    
Under the deal, the company would plead no contest to one charge of waiting three days to notify county authorities of the leak, and the county DA's office would petition the court to dismiss three other counts. One was for allowing the leak to occur and the remaining two were for waiting to report the leak.

Attorneys for residents displaced by the leak said in court papers filed last month that the plea bargain shortchanges them, because the agreement does not provide restitution for their losses, such as medical care, moving expenses and loss of value in their homes.

People affected by the natural gas release are not entitled to restitution under California's 2008 victims' rights law, DA Jackie Lacey and the office's environmental crimes staffers said in court papers filed last week.
   
Prosecutors say the deal should go through. DA spokeswoman Jane Robison said the office had no comment beyond its court papers filed in support of the plea deal.
    
In those papers, the DA's office said that the residents' economic losses have been covered by hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from SoCal Gas. It also said the victims' rights law approved by voters in 2008 does not allow plaintiffs in a civil case to intervene as victims in the criminal prosecution.