The family of a 79-year old Porter Ranch resident filed the first wrongful death lawsuit against the Southern California Gas Company on Feb. 2 for contributing to her death. About 100,000 metric tons of methane gas has leaked into the atmosphere from the company’s facilities since October.
The children of Zelda Rothman allege in their complaint that the adjacent Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field owned by SoCalGas that has been spewing methane since October 23 caused Ms. Rothman to suffer labored breathing that required the constant use of an oxygen tank and eventually contributed to her January 25 death.
The family further alleges that the company negligently failed to report the leak and to warn residents of the public’s health risks from the leakage. As a causal result, they say, the gas leak deteriorated the health of Ms. Rothman and shortened her expected life.:
Ms. Rothman’s son Michael told the Los Angeles Daily News that he filed the lawsuit because his mother, who was diagnosed with untreatable Stage 4 lung cancer in March, 2015, said she expected to be the first of many people killed by the leaking gas field.
Ms. Rothman was living a normal life, which included travel on a cruise to Hawaii, until November, when she began suffering difficulty walking or driving herself due to headaches and labored breathing. By December she was constantly on an oxygen tank and then quickly deteriorated after the holidays.
SoCalGas offered a relocation option that amounted to payments of about $8,500 a month, but by the time Ms. Rothman was willing to make the move, she was already in the hospital and soon was approaching hospice.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has been under huge criticism for a potential conflict of interest after reports that his sister, former California State Treasurer Kathleen L. Brown, is an $188,380-per-year Board member of Sempra Energy, Southern California Gas Company’s parent. But after two and a half months of crisis, Gov. Brown on Jan. 6 officially declared the leak a state of emergency, which accelerated the relocation of thousands of residents.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced on Feb. 2 that SoCalGas will face four misdemeanor criminal charges in connection with the gas leak: three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23-26, 2015, and one count of discharging air contaminants from Oct. 23, 2015, to the present.
Later the same day, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that the State of California had just joined a civil lawsuit filed by the County and City of Los Angeles against the southern California utility.
If convicted in the criminal case, SoCal Gas could be fined up to $25,000 a day for each day it failed to notify state authorities about the leak. The arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 17 in the District Attorney’s office.
The Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch neighborhoods has been spewing 500,000 metric tons of CO2 a month, about the equivalent to all business generated CO2 in the state. SoCalGas is trying to drill a relief well to repair a broken pipe casing 8,700 feet underground, but it is unlikely to stop the leak until early March.
Earthworks and the Environmental Defense Fund jointly released a frightening infrared aerial video that shows a billowing gas plume of methane gas that is wafting over Porter Ranch. Although natural gas is colorless, the infrared shows up as a dark and sinister gusher of pollution. The groups claim the releases have already equaled the entire annual release of methane from California’s 17 refineries.