Southern California Gas Company pleaded not guilty this week to misdemeanor charges for allegedly failing to immediately report the natural gas leak in Porter Ranch. The court appearance comes just days after the company announced that it had temporarily capped the months-old leak at its Aliso Canyon facility.
Attorneys for the Gas Company entered the not-guilty plea in a Santa Clarita courtroom, and another hearing has been set for April 19. Outside court, a spokesman for the company said the utility does not feel any laws were broken in its handling of the leak, and it is continuing to work to ensure the safety of Porter Ranch residents.
“We do not believe a criminal prosecution is warranted here,” said Mike Mizahi, a spokesman representing the Gas Company. “We will look forward to presenting our evidence to the district attorney through the legal proceedings.”
The charges were filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office on Feb. 2.
“While we recognize that neither the criminal charges nor the civil lawsuits will offer the residents of Los Angeles County a complete solution, it is important that Southern California Gas Co. be held responsible for its criminal actions,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at the time.
“We will do everything we can as prosecutors to help ensure that the Aliso Canyon facility is brought into compliance,” she said. “I believe we can best serve our community using the sanctions available through a criminal conviction to prevent similar public-health threats in the future.”
The company is charged with three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26, and one count of discharging air contaminants, beginning Oct. 23 and continuing for the duration of the leak. The charges are all misdemeanors.
If convicted, the company could be fined up to $25,000 a day for each day it failed to notify the state Office of Emergency Services about the leak.
It could be fined up to $1,000 per day for air pollution violations, prosecutors said.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have said they do not believe the gas leak poses any long-term risk, but plan to continue monitoring air quality in the area.
The Gas Co. announced Thursday that a relief well more than 8,600 feet long intercepted the leaking well and crews began pumping in heavy fluids to control the flow of gas.