It turns out that the “my dog ate my homework” excuse can be used by multi-billion dollar businesses as well as elementary school students. Los Angeles weather reported wednesday that a Halliburton-owned company is making wacky excuses about evidence of its involvement in fixing a gas leak, in what may be an attempt to deflect blame for the massive leak responsible public service.
The case concerns a California Public Utilities Commission investigation into the Aliso Canyon methane leak 25 miles outside of Los Angeles, where a breach in a natural gas storage well in 2015 sent more than 100,000 tonnes of methane spitting into the atmosphere for months on end one of the greatest environmental disasters in US history. The leak caused widespread health impacts among people living in the area and forced some 4,400 residents to relocate while Southern California Gas, the utility that owns the storage well, tried to resolve the issue.
SoCalGas didn’t act alone: they hired Boots & Coots (yes, that’s the name), a well control company owned by oil services giant Halliburton (the the same one who made a nice profit from the war in Iraq). Unfortunately, Boots & Coots missed it on several occasions. Between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the Halliburton subsidiary tried unsuccessfully six times to plug the defective well; SoCalGas finally managed to fix the leak using another tactic in February 2016, four months after it started in October.
One analysis suggested that this failure was in part because Boots & Coots didn’t do any computer modeling on the best ways to stop the leak before entering and trying to fix things. But the LA Times reported that SoCalGas has started calling on state regulators than boots and coots do do modeling. In an unbelievably * cough * unfortunate twist, this modeling was performed on an employee’s laptop, which was later stolen from a Best Buy parking lot in December 2015. Because the work was not recorded anywhere else, the company claims that it’s been lost and they can’t bring it to court.
This excuse for failing a third-grade teacher sniff test could have real ramifications for any punishment for the disaster. The Commission is still considering whether to impose a fine or penalize SoCalGas for the leak and the delayed clean-up process. Public advocates say utility shareholders should pay for the leak and be blamed for any mistakes made in the cleanup process; if Boots & Coots modeled as they claim, that’s one less mistake to consider.
Gizmodo reached out to Halliburton for comment, and the company responded by email, stating that “Boots & Coots is a company hired by well owners and operators for well intervention services and only operates for these. owners or operators under express written contracts, including to Aliso Canyon. Although Boots & Coots are following due process, it does not comment on pending legal proceedings. “
Incredibly, this isn’t the first time Halliburton has misplaced key evidence of fossil fuel hogwash. In the 2000s, Halliburton was hired by BP to manage its Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. The April 2010 explosion on the platform, which killed 11 workers and caused 134 million gallons of oil will eventually spill into the Gulf of Mexico, was caused in part by a faulty cement mix. Halliburton was convinced in 2013 of an offense for destroy evidence during a federal investigation that showed company officials knew about bad cement but still allowed it to be used. (Halliburton also told Gizmodo that the connection between Aliso’s leak and Deepwater Horizon is “totally inaccurate and misleading”.)
If this sounds suspicious to you, you are not alone. In an August petition, the California Public Advocates Office, the public services commission’s consumer watchdog, asked why the stolen laptop had just been brought up and why the employee did not have saved this crucial work elsewhere. The filing also points out that the CEO of Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCalGas, was on Halliburton’s board when the utility decided to hire Boots & Coots to plug the leak. Nothing to see here!
It remains to be seen whether SoCalGas will be held responsible for the leak. Aliso Canyon, meanwhile, is still in use: the Utilities Commission voted last month to increase gas storage to the installation, amid widespread local opposition. And Halliburton doesn’t have to talk a lot. Boots & Coots was able to protect itself from more questions from the Public Utilities Commission through a court in Texas, which ruled that it did not have to answer questions from California authorities. It must be fun to be a business.