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LA County Hits Gas Company With Criminal Charges for Huge Porter Ranch Leak

The legal troubles just keep coming for the Southern California Gas Company, whose natural gas storage facility sprung a leak in late October that still hasn't been fixed. A new filing yesterday of criminal charges against the company from the LA County District Attorney's Office alleges that the gas company took its time in reporting the leak to the proper authorities, says the LA Times. The four misdemeanor counts could add up to thousands of dollars in fines for the company.

The Daily News reports that the gas company's facing three counts of "failing to report the release of hazardous material" for the period from October 23, when the leak started, to October 26. The gas company's also facing a count of "discharge of air contaminants," also starting from October 23 until now, since the leak still hasn't been totally stopped.

The charges could result in a fine of up to $25,000 for each day that the company didn't notify state agencies of the leak, and an extra $1,000 a day for "pollution violations." The case is scheduled to be arraigned in Santa Clarita on February 17. "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," said LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey in a statement.

These fines, if the gas company has to pay them, will be nominal compared to the costs of relocating the over 4,400 households that have had to leave their homes because of the leak, according to a Southern California Gas Company release. (An additive in the gas that makes it easier to detect has been blamed for causing headaches, bloody noses, and nausea in Porter Ranch residents.) The company had previously said that it would cover up to $7,500 a month for each family to relocate; with over 4,400 families to move, that's could be around $33,000,000, and there are still about 1,200 households that are in the process of temporarily moving.

The District Attorney's charges aren't the only new legal battle the gas company's going to be fighting. Yesterday the state's Attorney General, Kamala Harris, joined a civil suit already filed against the company that charges that it broke "health and safety codes, public nuisance laws and hazardous materials reporting requirements, as well as engaging in unfair business practices." If a judge agrees, the company would have to pay up, and could be subject to "injunctions to enforce regulations," says the Times. There are now 11 agencies (federal, local, state) that are either looking into the company or outright suing it as a result of the Porter Ranch leak, the Times says.

· L.A. County files criminal charges over Porter Ranch gas leak [LAT]
· DA files criminal charges against SoCalGas over Porter Ranch leak as legal challenges mount [LADN]
· A Running Count of Exactly How Much Methane is Being Released From Huge Porter Ranch Gas Leak [Curbed LA]