The problem with Aliso Canyon is SoCalGas’ safety culture

To the Editor: I commend The Times for its editorial, which states that financial settlement with Southern California Gas Co. cannot begin to restore the sense of security that residents lost after the 2015 methane leak in Aliso Canyon.

With 35 years of experience researching the reliability of complex, security-related technological systems, I believe that human factors and organizational security culture issues were the main causes of this catastrophic failure. My former students and I addressed these questions in an extensive research paper published in 2017.

With the safety culture at SoCalGas, I believe that closing Aliso Canyon while Southern California is still using natural gas will not eliminate the risk of a leak but will simply move it to the company’s other underground operations, namely La Goleta, Honor Rancho and Playa del Rey. Of course, the residents of the Porter Ranch nearby will rest in safety, but what about the neighbors of the other facilities?

The safety culture of a company is analogous to the immune system of the human body, which protects against pathogens and fends off diseases. A good safety culture also protects against risky decisions such as reducing the budget for the preventive maintenance of safety-related systems.

Until California turns completely to clean energy, one solution to safely managing underground gas storage facilities is to cement the safety culture at SoCalGas and its parent company Sempra Energy.

Najmedin Meshkati, Los Angeles

The author is a professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at USC.

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