For some people, this could be seen as an argument for much more aggressive regulation of privately owned utilities, though I see it as an even stronger argument for public ownership of utilities:
For 111 days in 2015 and 2016, more than 100,000 metric tons of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – and other harmful chemicals leaked into the atmosphere from the blowout of well SS-25 at SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility in Los Angeles. The blowout forced the evacuation of more than 8,300 households. Residents exposed to the gas reported nosebleeds, dizziness, and respiratory problems. More than three years later, many report severe health effects.
In May 2019, an independent report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission put the blame for this disaster squarely on SoCalGas. In other words, SoCalGas, the largest natural gas provider in the nation, brought us the largest methane leak disaster in United States history.
SoCalGas’s disregard for safety was not an aberration. The independent report identifies more than 60 leaks at Aliso Canyon going back to the 1970s that SoCalGas chose not to investigate. Forty percent of the wells at Aliso Canyon reviewed in the report had past failures in the casing that enclose the wells and prevent leaks, with an average of two failures per well. According to the report, SoCalGas knew of these leaks and failures but neglected to conduct detailed inspections or evaluate for disaster potential.
In addition to finding negligence, the report also found incompetence. According to the report, SoCalGas should have been able to plug the blowout at SS-25 much sooner. SoCalGas, however, did not conduct the correct modeling in its attempts to plug the leak. Instead, SoCalGas used the exact same strategy in its six unsuccessful attempts. A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein is appropriate here: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If SoCalGas had competently conducted the correct modeling from the outset, the report finds that SoCalGas could have plugged SS-25 as early as November 13, 2015 — 90 days before SoCalGas actually plugged the well.
It’s really time for California, and the rest of the nation, to make public ownership of utilities less difficult.