In a lawsuit filed Thursday, January 11th, an Oakland-based environmental group has alleged that an underground gas storage reservoir operated by Southern California Gas Company in Playa del Rey is releasing cancer-causing chemicals that are polluting groundwater in the area.

The lawsuit — filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the Environmental Law Foundation — alleges that the natural gas storage reservoir, located 6,000 feet below Playa del Rey, is releasing the chemicals benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene, which are known by the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects.

The chemicals are being leaked from 12 wells connected to the underground gas reservoir and migrate up to the surface, “contaminating or threatening to contaminate” aquifers that are protected sources of drinking water, the lawsuit alleges.

Eleven of the wells are located beneath the bluffs in Playa del Rey and one well is beneath Marina del Rey.

The Environmental Law Foundation claims in the suit that Southern California Gas Company and its owner, Sempra Energy, are in violation of the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, which prohibits any business from contaminating California’s drinking water supplies.

“It’s our goal to enforce California law and stop the gas company from releasing toxics into these aquifers,” said Jim Wheaton, Environmental Law Foundation president.

“This storage facility is leaking like a sieve, threatening groundwater with oilfield chemicals and potentially endangering people who live in this area,” he alleged.

But Southern California Gas Company spokesman Peter Hidalgo called the claims in the lawsuit “erroneous.”

“After reviewing the complaint, we are reiterating our strong assertion that the Southern California Gas Company’s underground natural gas field located in Playa del Rey does not leak gas into the aquifer or elsewhere as (the Environmental Law Foundation) is alleging,” Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo added that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has conducted an independent investigation regarding the underground facility, which found no indications that the abandoned wells are leaking gas, and that they “do not pose any significant health risks.”

“The Southern California Gas Company has been actively working to ensure that all of our operations, including the underground field in Playa del Rey, are safe and reliable,” Hidalgo said.

The gas company has been operating the storage field since the early 1950s and has been a “good neighbor” to Playa del Rey and the surrounding community, he said.

The company’s operations are under the oversight of numerous regulatory agencies, including the CPUC, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the Air Quality Management District, the Los Angeles City Fire Department and the California Coastal Commission, he said.

But the Environmental Law Foundation alleges in the suit that the Southern California Gas Company has known that the wells are leaking, based on soil tests in the areas that have detected the presence of the chemicals.

“The facility is not being managed in a way that is compatible with the environment,” alleged Alise Cappel, an Environmental Law Foundation research director.

The Southern California Gas Company’s underground storage facility at 8141 Gulana Ave., Playa del Rey, is connected to the surface by over 200 wells.

The 12 wells that are allegedly leaking the cancer-causing chemicals beneath Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey were drilled in the 1920s and 1930s and have developed cracks and leaks from deterioration over the years, the lawsuit claims.