PORTER RANCH (CBSLA) — A settlement was reached Monday in the years-long battle over the Aliso Canyon storage facility which leaked natural gas beginning in 2015.
Attorneys representing more than 35,000 people impacted by the leak said Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, will have to pay up to $1.8 billion to their clients.
SoCalGas, which operates the facility, said the settlement will not affect ratepayers.
"My parents were displaced from it," said Shane Huegli, a Porter Ranch neighbor. "And I think the restitution for it, it's about time."
The Aliso Canyon blowout in October of 2015 remains the biggest natural gas leak in U.S. history. Ten of thousands of people were affected, many of which got sick.
More than 109,000 metric tons of methane were released and took almost four months to control. All the while, residents were reporting widespread health problems including dizziness, trouble breathing, headaches and nosebleeds.
Some residents say they are still suffering from impacts to this day.
When the leak was happening, some residents evacuated for a short time while others eventually moved away permanently. The settlement, attorneys said, will pay them for what they went through.
it took six years of intense litigation, but along the way, it also led to changes in the industry. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Brian Panish, summarized its impact saying, "The only way that Sempra or any utility understands anything, is in the pocketbook, and this is about holding them accountable. Changes have finally been made by the Public Utilities Commission for more safety."
Panish continued, "It was determined that this well had failed. It had no regular maintenance program. Because of those failures, these people suffered."
Two of the residents that lived through the leak reacted to the settlement Monday.
"That's the least they could do, I would say," said one resident. "I mean that's great news that they have done that but after so many years and so much suffering, and people being hurt. And we still don't know what the future is going to be like with all of the things that we went through at that time."
"I never thought this would actually be solved," said another resident. "I'm actually shocked to hear this today so it's good news. We'll see."
SoCalGas released a statement saying in part, "These agreements are an important milestone that will help the community and our company work toward putting this difficult chapter behind us."
As for how the $1.8 billion will be divided, the attorneys said that two retired judges will be reviewing all of the cases to determine how much each claimant will get.
They expect that work to begin in about four months and distribution of the money to start in about a year.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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