When most of us wake up tomorrow, Monday, October 23, we’ll grumble, resent the beginning of another workweek, mourn the passing of the weekend, but the date itself won’t mean much — it’ll be just another Monday. We won’t worry about the glass of water that our children sip. We won’t prohibit them from playing too close to bare soil. You won’t be tending to your third nosebleed in a row. You won’t be saying goodbye to your neighbors, friends, or family because they’re being relocated due to toxic chemicals on their properties. These terrifying sci-fi scenarios have become a reality and the norm for the residents of Porter Ranch and the San Fernando Valley. To them, Monday, October 23rd, will mark the two-year anniversary of the Aliso Canyon gas leak — the largest blowout in our nation’s history — which leaves 63% of Porter Ranch residents still sickened from poisons from Aliso Canyon (Los Angeles County Department of Health, 2016, pg. 9), and over the four-month blowout, displaced 25,000+ from their homes.
Governor Brown himself issued a “State of Emergency” in response to the massive gas blowout. So why has he yet to issue an executive order to #shutitalldown, ban fracking, and position California as a climate leader in the shift towards 100% clean energy? Especially when, “The Aliso Canyon storage facility is not necessary to meet the everyday household or electricity needs in Los Angeles” (Food and Water Watch, 2016).
According to the demand letter sent to Governor Brown, authored by Food and Water Watch, Save Porter Ranch, Los Angeles Unified School District, and San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Councils, “The Aliso Canyon facility has been closed to normal use since January 2016.” They go on to say, “SoCalGas operates their other storage fields — two of which are in the Los Angeles pipeline system — and there is already infrastructure in place to keep gas flowing to Los Angeles.”
But the storage facility being inoperative does not mean that leaks are now prevented, nor does it really do anything to curtail the effects it has had on Porter Ranch’s residents.
As is the case with gas leaks and emissions, the first detection was the unmistakable smell of rotten eggs. Then came the spikes in health related issues. Residents began to develop rashes, headaches, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, skin irritations, blurry vision, asthma, cough, and many other symptoms. This makes sense when the EPA has reported that during operation Aliso Canyon facility is the third most polluting and highest greenhouse gas emitting gas storage facility in the country. In 2014, the facility emitted 206,268
combined tons of natural gas, carbon dioxide and other pollutants, roughly the same amount as 46,000 cars driven a year.
According to longtime Porter Ranch resident, David Milney, 68, “This is really scary stuff. We still aren’t sure how badly we were affected” (Los Angeles Times, 2015). The times article was written shortly after the initial blowout, but even now, only hours shy of the two-year anniversary, we still don’t have conclusive answers for the cause of the blowout or its effects.
State oil and gas regulators have speculated that the leak was likely caused by a breach in the well’s production casing wall, which could have happened due to faulty installation, a manufacturing defect, or excessive wear from well work and corrosion. Unfortunately the public health research is equally underwhelming in findings.
In fact, The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has yet to start a long-term health study because of funding issues and legal battles.
According to Brenda Gazzar, “County public health officials estimate $35 million to $40 million will be needed to complete the necessary comprehensive study. Earlier this year, The Southern California Gas Company reached an $8.5 million settlement with air quality regulators, offering up $1 million of those funds to conduct a health study” (Daily News, 2017).
This sparked outrage with citizens, and even Los Angeles County officials, who said that wasn’t enough. County officials have maintained that SoCalGas’ scant health study is insufficient and needs to be conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
An official representative from Public Health said, “Public Health believes the long-term health study would benefit the community by ensuring that residents who have exposed to this extraordinary event can have confidence that health effects are being studied with the scientific rigor to provide answers” (Daily News, 2017). And answers are needed when complaints of headaches and other symptoms continue to be reported to the county’s public health department.
Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, a local physician in Porter Ranch, began conducting his own independent clinical study of residents right after the leak was capped in February 2016, and has continued collecting findings up until this year. A study that is, “…just scratching the surface, but I want to use this as a foundation to say ‘let’s all stop’,” Nordella said.
More than 300 Porter Ranch residents packed into the Hilton Hotel in Woodland Hills to listen to Nordella’s findings, hoping for answers that actually addressed their concerns. Daily news reported, “…many gasped as he showed them charts with patterns of substances that he found in hair and urine of patients he had tested and followed, including styrene, a derivative of benzene, which is a known carcinogen.” Chronic exposure to styrene is directly linked to tiredness and lethargy, memory deficits, headaches and vertigo (Daily News, 2017). Nordella also said:
· 31 percent of 106 patients whose urine was tested had a presence of styrene at higher than average levels.
· 34 percent of the first 51 patients followed by Nordella experienced nosebleeds. 31 percent of the 72 Nordella followed after the leak was capped still experienced nosebleeds.
· Lithium was detected in the LADWP water supply of 26 homes, while in the non-LADWP water; there were no detectable levels of lithium. Long-term exposure to lithium can cause dementia. (Daily News, October 14, 2017)
Dr. Nordella also collected hair samples, which revealed traces of uranium, which can be naturally occurring, but was higher in Porter Ranch residents when compared to the rest of California, as well as the United States (Daily News, 2017). Nordella says that supports evidence of patients’ long-term exposure (Daily News, 2017).
On the surface it seems like an easy choice for Governor Brown to #shutitalldown, but his inadequate response is underscored by California’s long, sordid, insidious, profit-driven relationship with oil and gas. In fact the Aliso Canyon Oil Field dates back to 1938 when J. Paul Getty’s Tidewater Associated Oil Company broke ground at the site. Naturally, Aliso Canyon eventually depleted the entirety of the oil and gas in one of their formations, and this allowed for its conversion to a gas storage reservoir. A reservoir that is the second-largest natural gas storage site in the Western United States, and one of four gas storage facilities owned by Southern California Gas Company, or SoCalGas.
SoCalGas is one of three oil companies that continue to operate on the field. The other two companies are The Termo Company and Crimson Resource Management Corp. In recent years, Termo and SoCalGas have both proposed expansions of their operations, but all plans came to an abrupt halt after the methane gas eruption from SoCalGas well Standard Sesnon 25 that began on October 23, 2015.
The specific cause for the eruption remains unknown, but we can be sure of the damaging and lasting effects that the Aliso Canyon blowout has had on the communities living around it.
Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas has been valiant in his support of the coalition to shut down the Aliso Canyon facility, and in May of this year he introduced a bill, Senate Bill 57, that would keep the gates closed on new natural gas injection at Aliso Canyon until the cause of the massive four-month leak could be determined.
The bill fell three votes shy of receiving the two-thirds threshold needed to pass. Shortly thereafter, Senior Organizer for Food and Water Watch, Alexandra Nagy said, “I will continue to fight to give the residents of the north San Fernando Valley and Southern California ratepayers the comfort that another disaster like this never happens again” (Daily News, 2017).
In a shocking act of repudiation, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration just gave the green light to resume injections at Aliso Canyon storage facility.
According to Food and Watch, this announcement does these four things:
· It ignores requirements by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, Health Department and Fire Department that a root-cause analysis, long-term health study, seismic study, and CEQA analysis should be completed.
· It minimizes the serious health effects still felt by residents from the largest gas blowout in U.S. history.
· It ignores the findings by four independent studies, including one by L.A. County, that Aliso Canyon storage facility isn’t necessary for energy reliability.
· It ignores the dangers of daily leaks, accidents, and spills that pose a serious threat to nearby communities. The 10-year plan to decommission Aliso Canyon, developed by Robert Weisenmiller, California Energy Commission Chairman, is neither bold nor urgent enough.
This all comes on the heels of 25,500+ lawsuits being filed against SoCalGas, as well as countless concerns raised by residents and Los Angeles County officials. The lawsuits are slated for hearing in December 2018, but this does nothing in the immediate to address the health issues that have been developing due to decades of poisonous leaks and emissions.
Thus the fight to shut down this poisonous operation continues daily.
A broad coalition of support built by Save Porter Ranch and Food and Water Watch will converge on the Aliso Canyon facility tomorrow, October 23, in protest of Governor Brown’s decision.
The protest, comprised of residents and their allies, will lines the gates of the Aliso Canyon storage facility.
Signs will read #shutitalldown.
Their bodies and intentions will be fixed, while their faces will read of concern because they know the truth of what’s happening there, and they know what’s at stake.
And just beneath the very ground they’ll be standing on, a new leak will spring forth, spreading more poisonous gas and metal into soil around them.
Children will continue to get sick.
Families will continue to be displaced.
State regulators and judges will wake up from another restful night, while the residents of Porter Ranch will nurse the chronic coughs that continue to thwart any chance of a good night’s sleep.
All is not lost though.
Governor Brown has the executive power to order the immediate decommissioning of the Aliso Canyon operation.
He has an opportunity to exercise his authority and rectify his decision that allowed SoCalGas to resume injections at Alison Canyon storage facility.
Amidst the overwhelming findings and public outcry, it seems unthinkable that Governor Brown would remain steadfast in his position.
If he does, then I’ll have to wonder, “how do YOU sleep at night, Governor Brown?”