People chant slogans during a protest outside the Aliso Canyon storage facility, in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, May 2016. Photo: Jae C. Hong (AP)
Turns out the “my dog ate my homework” excuse can be used by multibillion-dollar companies and elementary schoolers. The LA Times reported on wednesday that a Halliburton-owned company wanted to apologize over evidence of its involvement in fixing a gas leak, in what may be an attempt to shift blame for the huge leak of the responsible utility company.
The case concerns an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission into the Methane Leak from Aliso Canyon 25 miles outside of Los Angeles, where a 2015 natural gas storage well ruptured more than 100,000 tons of methane spitting into the atmosphere for months one of the worst environmental disasters in US history. It caused leak widespread health effects among people living in the area forced some 4,400 residents to relocate as Southern California Gas, the utility that owned the storage resource, tried to fix the problem.
SoCalGas didn’t act alone: They hired Boots & Coots (yes, that’s the name), a source control company owned by oilfield services giant Halliburton (the the same one who made a tidy profit from the war in Iraq). Unfortunately, Boots & Coots screwed up – repeatedly. Between late 2015 and early 2016, the Halliburton subsidiary tried six times and failed to plug the faulty source; SoCalGas finally managed to fix the leak in February 2016 with a different tactic, four months after it started in October.
An analysis has suggested that this failure is partly due to the fact that Boots & Coots failed to make computer models about the best ways to stop the leak before going in and trying to fix things. But the LA Times reported that SoCalGas… started claiming state regulators that Boots & Coots did modeling. In an incredibly *cough* unfortunate twist, this modeling was done on an employee’s laptop, which was then stolen from a Best Buy parking lot in December 2015. Because the work wasn’t stored anywhere else, the company claims, it was lost, and they can’t take it to court.
This excuse for failing a third-grade teacher’s sniff test could have real implications for any punishment meted out for the disaster. The Commission is still considering fines or penalties for SoCalGas for the leak and delayed cleanup process. Public advocates say the utility’s shareholders should pay for the leak and be addressed for any mistakes made during the cleanup process; if Boots & Coots did modeling as it claimed, that’s one less mistake to be held accountable for.
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Gizmodo contacted Halliburton for comment, and the company responded by email stating that “Boots & Coots is a company hired by resource owners and operators for resource intervention services and only works for those owners or operators with express written contracts, including at Aliso Canyon.While Boots & Coots complies with legal procedures, it does not make any representations about pending legal proceedings.”
Incredibly, this isn’t the first time Halliburton has misplaced key evidence of fossil-related fuckups. In the 2000s, Halliburton was contracted by BP to operate its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The April 2010 explosion on the oil rig, which killed 11 workers and 134 million gallons of oil eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico, was partly caused by a defective cement mixture. Halliburton wax convinced in 2013 of a felony for destroying evidence during a federal investigation that found that company officials knew about the bad cement, yet allowed it to be used. (Halliburton also told Gizmodo that linking the Aliso leak and Deepwater Horizon is “completely inaccurate and misleading”.)
If this sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. In a motion filed in August, the California’s Public Advocates Office, the utility’s consumer watchdog, asked why the stolen laptop was only now brought up and why the employee hadn’t supported this crucial work elsewhere. The filing also points out that the CEO of Sempra Energy, SoCalGas’ parent company, was on Halliburton’s board when the utility decided to hire Boots & Coots to plug the leak. Nothing to see here!
Whether SoCalGas will be held responsible in any way for the leak remains to be seen. Aliso Canyon, meanwhile, is still in use: The Public Utilities Commission voted last month for: increase gas storage at the facility, amid widespread local opposition. And Halliburton doesn’t have to talk much. Boots & Coots was able to shield itself from further questions from the Public Utilities Commission through a Texas court, which ruled it did not have to answer questions from California authorities. Must be fun to be a business.
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