Utility officials at one of the relief wells being drilled in Porter Ranch. Courtesy Southern California Gas
Utility officials at one of the relief wells being drilled in Porter Ranch. Courtesy Southern California Gas

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed misdemeanor criminal charges Tuesday against a unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy for allegedly failing to immediately report the Porter Ranch gas leak to state authorities.

“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.

“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 was 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 through Tuesday. 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.

Arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 17 in Santa Clarita.

Because of the leak, residents of roughly 4,400 area homes have been relocated by the utility, with about 1,200 other households awaiting relocation. Students at two schools in the area have also been moved to other campuses away from the leak. Two relief wells are being drilled to end the leak.

Porter Ranch is a neighborhood of Los Angeles on the northwestern edge of the San Fernando Valley.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.