Two years after the nation’s worst-ever gas blowout at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, the lives of many families in Porter Ranch and the San Fernando Valley will never be the same. Thousands are still sick, and they are tired of being strung along by regulators and California Governor Jerry Brown, who this summer okayed a partial reopening of the gas field.
On October 23, local residents and their supporters will gather at the facility gates and demand that Governor Brown close it for good before leaving office next year.
For more than four months, the blowout released 100,000 metric tons of methane and displaced thousands of families in Los Angeles. Two years later, the facility still leaks, residents are still getting sick, and the cause of the blowout is still undisclosed.
A disturbing new health investigation confirms what many residents have long feared: they have absorbed significant traces of toxic chemicals in their bodies. On October 14, hundreds of community members packed a presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, a Porter Ranch primary care physician, who conducted a toxicology study of more than 100 patients.
The audience gasped as Dr. Nordella disclosed that his patients, ranging in age from three to 91, had high levels of uranium, lithium, styrene and ethylbenzene in their systems. The last two chemicals are derivatives of the carcinogen benzene. The Los Angeles County Health Department has proposed a long-term health study within a 12-mile radius of the blowout, encompassing nearly 1.5 million people. Yet, no funds to underwrite such a study, estimated to cost $35 to $40 million, are forthcoming, either from the County or gas field operator SoCalGas
Matt Pakuko, president and co-founder of the grassroots community group Save Porter Ranch, blamed state regulators, the governor and local officials for turning a blind eye to the community’s suffering.
“Our government needs to stop poisoning the people of the San Fernando Valley,” he said.
Aliso Canyon Gas Field Will Never be Safe
In July, after the leaky field had been shut down for 18 months, Gov. Brown allowed SoCalGas to refill some of its wells, over the objections of the community and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Within two weeks after reopening, a third of the refilled wells failed and were closed because of problems with pressure in the well casings. Methane emissions from the field spiked.
The Santa Susana Fault, at risk for a 7.3 magnitude quake, transects the facility; a former SoCalGas manager has warned of a potential “catastrophic loss of life” if an earthquake occurs.
The field is not even needed to power provide power to Los Angles. The region has withstood two hot summers and a cold, wet winter without needing gas from Aliso Canyon, and several studies have demonstrated that there are other ways to supply gas. Yet, the Brown administration let SoCalGas reinject gas instead of prioritizing the health of nearby families.
Many residents point to a conflict of interest for the Governor: His sister, Kathleen Brown, sits on the board of Sempra Energy, SoCalGas’ parent company, and has been paid over $1 million by the company since 2013. Ironically, she sits on the company’s Environmental, Health, and Safety Committee.
Now, the Brown administration says it is considering closing Aliso Canyon in ten years. That is too long to wait for families that make frequent urgent care visits for recurring rashes, nosebleeds, headaches and nausea and worry about the long-term effects of exposure to toxic emissions. Even local officials are tired of waiting.
“The Governor himself has recognized that he has sufficient authority and more than enough compelling reasons to close Aliso down now and forever,” said State Senator Henry Stern, who represents the Porter Ranch area. “It's time for him to exercise that authority for the health and safety of our community."
The people of Porter Ranch and the Northern San Fernando Valley, with their supporters throughout Los Angeles and California, will protest outside the gate of Aliso Canyon Storage Facility to mark another anniversary of the blowout. They say they will do whatever it takes to convince Gov. Brown to permanently close down Aliso Canyon. Their lives now depend on it.