Thursday, October 24th, 2019. Four years and a day after the largest methane gas leak in human history, we (a group of activist organizations and community members including Food and Water Action, Sunrise LA, Extinction Rebellion, Ground Game, Aliso Moms, and Save Porter Ranch) wake up before dawn so that we can blockade the second-largest gas storage facility in the country. Right here in Los Angeles, in the North San Fernando Valley — the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility.
I could go on and on about Aliso. How over 100,000 metric tons of methane and other toxic chemicals (including carcinogens such as benzene) spewed into the air during the blowout. How the carbon footprint was larger than that of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
I could go on and on about how the community was poisoned, is still poisoned, bloody noses, dead pets, dead loved ones, dead teachers, and I could tell you how our Department of Public Health chose to cover up the leaks, said that the air was safe, that doctors should not test blood for toxins.
I could go on and on about the history of new housing developments in the hills, the families buying those homes, unaware of “methane mountain” in their backyard. And I could talk about how the facility is still leaking. Today. How the poisoning has never stopped, even years after residents were allowed to return home.
I could go on about SoCal Gas, the largest gas monopoly in the United States, which controls the facility, and never properly maintained its wells. How the entire thing could have been prevented or stopped in days, had the gas company had an emergency procedure in place, had used science, instead of trying the same unsuccessful attempts over and over again. Instead, it leaked for four months.
Or I could go on about how every single well is on an active faultline — The Santa Susana Fault — and if a major earthquake were to happen, all the wells could rupture simultaneously, releasing eight times as much methane as the October 2015 blowout did. Which again, was the largest methane blowout in recorded history.
I could go on about how, just weeks ago, the facility was literally on fire. Releasing more toxins into the air. Forcing thousands of residents to evacuate, and to shelter inside. And then SoCal Gas’s assurance, that even though they didn’t know what kept burning for days, the fire was not a risk to public safety.
I could go on and on about all of this. But I won’t.
Because the one person who can do something about this, the one person who could shut Aliso Canyon down with the stroke of the pen, already knows all of this.
Governor Gavin Newsom promised us he’d shut down Aliso Canyon. But now, he refuses to even look residents in the eyes.
And I would like to go on and on about this. Because this is truly unacceptable.
And promise he did. On the campaign trail, he promised to shut down the facility. Multiple times. But it’s been ten months and now, and he has not. In fact, he’s changed his talking points. Now he’s saying he wants to wait on a study that the California Public Utilities Commission is doing as to whether or not we need Aliso — a study that is using data supplied by the gas company and ignoring advancements in energy efficiency and clean energy to make false claims of gas shortages. A study that won’t be done for another year. The study is a stall tactic. It is a lifeline for the gas company and a death sentence for us.
It’s almost four o’clock, now. Late into hour eight of the blockade. It’s hot. We’re tired.
We all have headaches, even with the masks. But we’re standing strong. We’ve made our demands clear to the news media: That Gavin Newsom keep his campaign promises and sign an executive order to shut down Aliso Canyon today. From behind the hills of the gas facility, we see a plume of black smoke. Dystopian. Our eyes burn. We cannot see. Ash rains down on us. From a fire. But which one? There are multiple fires surrounding us: one in a landfill, the Tick Fire, a brush fire in the basin. Through our breathing masks, we discuss whether we need to leave.
The irony of present natural disasters stopping us from addressing a past (and future) natural disaster, is not lost on us.
But we don’t want to leave. Because Aliso is not just a Porter Ranch problem, it is a Southern California problem, a state-wide problem. It is an emblem of government inaction because shutting it down is the obvious answer: it is deadly. It is costly. It is nonsensical. Politicians want it gone. And by not acting on it, by not shutting it down, our Governor is making it clear: He is choosing utilities over people. Profits over people. Money over our future. Money over our right now.
Because the climate crisis is happening. It is upon us. We are already surrounded by fires.
But, as it turns out, our Governor is here, in Los Angeles. And he’s going to a fundraiser in a mansion in Brentwood for a presidential candidate. On a day when California is being pummeled by preventable blackouts, preventable fires, our Governor is not holding the utilities accountable — he is attending a fundraiser.
But, we want to give him the chance to explain himself. To shut down Aliso. To keep his promises.
So we break the line, not because we are giving up, quite the opposite, because we want to give our Governor one more chance to show up for us. And since he will not come to us, we go to him.
We stand outside the fundraiser and call on him. We are not mad at him. We are desperate. Tired. Terrified. We beg him to come out, talk to us, stand with us. We tell him that if he shuts down Aliso we’ll hug him. Forgive him, instantly.
We will love you, Gavin, we tell him, if you come out and stand with us, stand with the community. The youth. The future. We will love you if you shut down Aliso. We want to love you, Governor Newsom.
And so, we wait for him to come out.
And we wait.
Around eight, the party ends and we learn that our Governor has snuck out the side of the building.
The one man who can save us has snuck out of a building to avoid even looking at us.
On Thursday, October 24th, 2019, four years and a day after Aliso, Gavin Newsom chose not to stand with us.
And so, because this is life and death to us, justice and indignation to us, truly unacceptable to us, we will go on and on and on, until Newsom takes our side.
We will go on and on and on.