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Illinois Attorney General files suit over Mahomet gas leak

Mahomet residents have endured nearly a year of unsafe, even flammable water thanks to a natural gas leak in pipes owned by Peoples Gas, a Chicago-based natural gas company. At least five homes have been able to set their water on fire, which is amusing for about three seconds, when you realize you can’t drink it, you can’t cook with it, you can’t bathe with it, and you can’t wash anything with it. Finally, after months of urging from Mahomet residents and their representing attorneys at Spiros Law, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit against Peoples Gas.

From the press release

Chicago—Attorney General Lisa Madigan today filed a lawsuit against The Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company (Peoples Gas) over a natural gas leak that contaminated one of central Illinois’ largest fresh water sources, impacting nearby residents’ private wells.

Madigan filed the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction order in Champaign County Circuit Court against Peoples Gas for a natural gas leak at the company’s underground natural gas storage facility near the village of Fisher, Ill. Natural gas is made up primarily of methane, is highly flammable and can cause asphyxiation in enclosed spaces. The injunction order will require Peoples to identify the cause of the leak and ensure residents have access to safe drinking water.

The Peoples Gas facility contains an underground gas storage field of 27,500 contiguous acres that has a working gas capacity of approximately 36.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The gas is stored approximately 4,000 feet underground in an area below the Mahomet Aquifer, which provides fresh water to approximately 850,000 Illinois residents. According to Madigan’s complaint, a Peoples Gas employee observed gas bubbles formed in puddles above one of the underground access wells used by Peoples Gas to transfer natural gas into the underground gas storage field. Peoples Gas reported to state authorities that a large amount of natural gas had leaked from the well, and that it had reached the Mahomet Aquifer and the private wells of five nearby homes. Affected homeowners have reported bubbling drinking water that can even be ignited.

“Peoples Gas failed to meet its obligation to act in the best interest of residents by immediately evaluating the extent of the contamination and taking steps to stop its spread,” Madigan said. “This order is intended to ensure that residents have access to safe drinking water while the company addresses the longer-term cleanup.”

Under the order, Peoples Gas must immediately take action to identify the cause of the natural gas leak. The company must also provide safe drinking water to impacted residents, and install gas monitoring devices at impacted households to monitor for threats from the natural gas contamination. Madigan’s lawsuit also seeks to ensure residents have access to safe water on a permanent basis and asks for civil penalties.

The Attorney General filed the complaint and motion based on a October 11, 2017 referral from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Attorney General’s Office will next work to require Peoples Gas to hire an independent environmental engineering firm, subject to all relevant state agencies’ approval, to investigate and fully determine the nature and extent of the migration of natural gas into the aquifer and to develop a remediation plan to fully address the impacts of the release.

Assistant Attorneys General Brian Clappier and Brian Navarrete are handling the case for Madigan’s Environmental Bureau.

Top photo by Stacy Thacker

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