Nearly 700 Porter Ranch area residents file clams against state, demand $3.5 million each

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Nearly 700 residents who live in and around Porter Ranch filed claims against the state of California Friday, accusing the governor and several regulatory agencies of negligence and demanding $3.5 million each for the pain and loss they suffered after the massive gas leak erupted near their homes.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that leaders with the state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil and Gas among others were negligent because they issued permits to the SoCalGas to allow natural gas to be injected into aged wells in Aliso Canyon.

“The massive gas leak caused claimant to suffer adverse health effects, lose market value in claimants real property, lose the free use and enjoyment of claimants own property, and other injuries and damages,” according to the lawsuit, filed by Lancaster-based attorney R. Rex Parris.

The residents also allege the South Coast Air Quality Management District did not warn residents early enough that a massive gas leak was occurring even though they began reporting odors.

And Gov. Jerry Brown was included in the lawsuit, for allegedly telling state agencies to ease up on the requirements for permits and for failing to immediately call a state of emergency.

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services defended Brown’s handling of the gas leak crisis, saying that coordinated action from the state commenced soon after the leak was reported and continued until it was sealed.

The governor declared a state of emergency Jan. 6, and throughout the crisis, his office said there were daily calls involving all responding state agencies and the governor’s office.

“The state will continue to exercise its full regulatory and oversight authority to protect the health and safety of residents and has already launched multiple investigations to ensure SoCaGas — the party responsible for this leak — is held accountable,” said Office of Emergency Services spokesman Kelly Huston, in a statement.

The Southern California Gas Co. and parent company, Sempra Energy, were also named Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Natural gas began leaking from one of 115 aged wells at its Aliso Canyon Storage Facility near Porter Ranch in late October. One day after the gas leak, residents began calling in complaints to the air quality district. They reported headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting.

At least 6,000 residents relocated. Two local elementary schools were affected, with nearly 2,000 schoolchildren and staff moved to other schools.

The leak was controlled Feb. 11 and capped Feb. 18, but residents continued to report health problems as they returned home. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducted indoor air and surface testing of 100 homes earlier this month. The results are still pending.

Residents have called for the Aliso Canyon storage facility to be shut down, while legislators are pressuring state regulators to step up to ensure the safety of such natural gas wells statewide.

Residents have also filed dozens of separate lawsuits against SoCalGas.



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