Sempra Utility Charged With Reporting California Leak Late

  • Sempra unit faces four misdemeanor charges as leak continues
  • Aliso Canyon leak prompted governor to declare emergency

Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. utility was charged on Tuesday with failing to immediately report a natural gas well leak north of Los Angeles that has driven thousands of residents from their homes and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.

The criminal complaint filed Tuesday accuses the unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy of four misdemeanors related to discharging air contaminants and failing to report the release of hazardous materials, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.

“We will do everything we can as prosecutors to help ensure that the Aliso Canyon facility is brought into compliance,” Lacey said. “We believe we can best serve our community using the sanctions available through a criminal conviction to prevent similar public health threats in the future.”

Sempra’s delay in responding to the leak and its later statements about the gas posing no public safety threat have ignited a backlash, with U.S. senators calling for a federal probe and city officials threatening to permanently shut the storage field where the leak sprung. Earlier on Tuesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she had joined a lawsuit by the state Air Resources Board against the utility over the methane leak first detected on Oct. 23. 

SoCalGas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said in a statement late Tuesday that the company had just been notified of the charges and was still reviewing them. “We will defend ourselves vigorously through the judicial process,” she said.

Sempra has said it expects to plug the leaking well by the end of February.

At least 25 complaints have been filed against the company, alleging negligence, nuisance, and trespass, Sempra Energy said in a Jan. 7 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company faces as much as $900 million in mostly legal and regulatory expenses, based on a Bloomberg Intelligence estimate.

Sempra’s shares have fallen 5.9 percent since the leak was discovered, closing at $95.52 on Tuesday.

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