By Rosemary Jenkins
The leak of a gas storage well at Porter Ranch is being called the worst in California’s history! Since the incident was exposed to the public on October 23rd of this year, during the first month alone more gas has seeped into our atmosphere than “a quarter of the entire state’s emissions” for this period. The area is so toxic that the air space above it has been declared a no-fly zone (for fear of mass explosions from the plumes that are filling the air). More than 2000 families have already been relocated–with more to come.
As proof of just how malignant this exposure is to our community is the fact that so many residents have been affected immediately from the plumes. Normally, exposures take years to manifest health issues (consider what transpired at the chemical dumpsite at Love Canal in New York and the ground-water contamination affecting residents of Hinkley, California, famous for the lawsuit that Erin Brockovich championed). But not here! Porter Ranch victims are already experiencing migraines, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tingling in extremities, skin eruptions, and more. This is no minor incident that can be waved off by the authorities as they tried to do when the exposure was first discovered.
Porter Ranch victims are already experiencing migraines, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tingling in extremities, skin eruptions, and more. This is no minor incident that can be waved off by the authorities as they tried to do when the exposure was first discovered.
A good friend of mine had to relocate to Glendale from Porter Ranch, but the landlord wants her family out by the end of December so he can rent to others. Her daughter is covered by a rash from exposure and her son is suffering from nose bleeds.
This is only one example of the hundreds of complaints—both physical and emotional—that are emanating from this crisis. There have been many community meetings where experts covering a variety of specializations have spoken to inform and to answer questions.
Despite all the attention, there have been no assurances about immediate mitigation. The Sempra/Southern California Gas Company, responsible for this, has stated that the section of the pipeline and storage facility in question will take at least another 4-5 months to resolve.
The problem is so pervasive, however, that merely “killing” the one section is no longer enough. The community demand is to shut down the entire facility because the infrastructure in question is so old (50-60 years) that fixing one section will only lead to weaknesses elsewhere where additional and perhaps more lethal leaks can be expected (there are 92 other wells in question).
This particular well was built in 1964, therefore not subject at the time to the later 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. Had it complied with the new rulings after the fact (as a good custodian of public interests would do), it is unlikely that this explosion would have occurred. The pipes installed all those years ago are subject to oxidation, which we now know will eventually lead to the kind of leaks that we are witnessing (many of our homes that were built decades ago have needed to be re-piped for the same reason). The 1974 regulations require that such pipes be encased in concrete, a measure intended to protect our communities and prevent such occurrences.
Apparently, Sempra/SoCalGas did not think installing such additional protection (not technically required of them) was necessary. Now look at the results when that kind of indifference becomes policy.
Lawsuits are being filed, both class-action and individual (people who have been victimized by this lack of oversight by the gas company must file formal lawsuits in order to receive the legal judgments that can make them whole again—see below for details).
So what about Brown? Where has our governor been in all this? For years he has purported to be a champion of the environment, yet for years he has also resisted any calls to forbid present and future fracking in our state. What is more, his lack of attention to this crisis is very telling about his environmental commitment.
Once known as Governor Moonbeam, Brown seems to have lost some of that glowing luster when it comes to the oil and gas industry—big business has invested heavily (to the tune of over a half million dollars last year alone) in supporting California lawmakers (including Governor Brown) who can rule in their favor. Illustrating the point, Governor Brown has fired some of his own regulators over refusing to grant permits for additional drilling sites for companies such as Occidental Oil.
What is particularly inexplicable is that he has not considered the Porter Ranch problem to be significant enough to call a State of Emergency for those affected (the County has done this). Such a declaration would bring in State and Federal support by way of financial and investigative assistance with subsequent meaningful punitive measures for those found guilty of the negligence that has led to this dilemma. It is simply incomprehensible that he has not even deemed it necessary to come down from Sacramento to visit the site and interview the victims. Such inaction and inattention should, at the very least, be an embarrassment for him!
Is this “dereliction of duty” partly due to Governor Brown’s relationship with his sister, Kathleen Brown? Certainly, at the very least, there is a conflict of interest. Ms. Brown serves on multiple boards receiving from each one enormous financial compensation. She has an equity stake in Sempra, is partner in the Manatt Phelps Law Firm which represents one of the biggest oil-fracking lobbies in California, and is beneficiary of over a million dollars for her involvement with Forestar, a real estate concern that handles oil and gas considerations as well.
The fact is that such gas storage facilities (as the present one) should never be built near populations. This facility did exist, however, before new populations wanted to reside in the area (prospective buyers were not informed about the presence of the nearby gas storage). Under the circumstances, approval for these developments should never have been allowed, but since thousands of people do live in the area, necessary mitigations must take place immediately.
Yet, it is baffling that Forestar (the same company with which Kathleen Brown is intimately involved) is still currently planning to create a 285-acre luxury home development (Hidden Creek Estates) adjacent to Porter Ranch despite safety considerations for the new residents.
The Forestar Group has repeatedly made a point of insisting that any regulations on fracking will hurt its bottom line. At the same time Governor Brown, despite repeated demonstrations against the fracking procedures, has yet to decide on this issue. Is this due to a conflict?
Remember from my previous reporting that Termo is currently asking for authorization from the County to create 12 new injection wells on three new pads in the very same Aliso Canyon area. No input from Brown. In the meantime, Forestar doesn’t seem to care about and seems indifferent to the safety implications for placing a new community in what is now an unsafe area (and may be for a long time).
Just days ago, thank goodness, the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to shut down the two elementary schools in the area that have been most affected by this gas exposure and to try to keep the children together in their new school locations. The filtration systems that were ordered by the District to counter the effects of gas exposure are not effective under these circumstances—hence the move for relocating the students and staff at the affected schools.
What is unfortunate and yet expected are the variety of ways people will react in the short- and long-term. If it is hard for adults to adjust to such unexpected change, just think of the dynamics that affect the children. Counselling must certainly be a part of recovery for the victims of this “accident”—a situation that was just waiting to happen.
A number of distinguished health experts spoke at a recent townhall meeting. They presented some eye-opening and even frightening information regarding this environmental crisis about which few in the public are aware. I was particularly taken by the fact that not only are significant plumes rising from the leak but that even after permanently capping the failed and destabilized portion of the storage facility, sufficient gases can and will still percolate down into the ground below—a situation which can affect ground water, our aquifers, and even rise through the floors of our homes and businesses (the way we have been warned in the past about radon).
Don’t let anyone, including officials from Sempra/SoCalGas, tell us that mercaptan, the chemical which gives odor to the gas (for detection purposes) is not a potentially dangerous additive. Exposure to hydrocarbon toxicity (a derivative of petroleum and wood contamination that comes with the drilling and maintenance of these gas projects) can have deleterious effects on organs–the brain and nervous system, the heart, stomach, liver, and blood stream, with immediate effects on the lungs due to pulmonary aspiration of these gases. Part and parcel of the drilling and storage process entails the presence of a number of dangerous elements:
* hydrogen sulfide (associated with oil drilling—the Porter Ranch facility is a former oil dump, hence the decision to create a storage facility in the same area was a counter-intuitive and dangerous one)
* sulfur dioxide
* benzene (the most carcinogenic gas; it can accumulate in the body, much of which can remain for life)
* toluene (creating a major negative impact on brain and nerve activity)
* hexane (causing peripheral numbness—fingers and toes, for instance)
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., despite his severe case of laryngitis, offered invaluable information to the standing-room only audience of at least 1000 people:
He explained how DOGGR (Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources) is, in his opinion, actually in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. Proof of this hypothesis is that virtually every injection well in our area is operating illegally.
Thus, incidents, such as what we are facing today in Porter Ranch, should not be surprising. There has been a total lack of transparency regarding authorization, implementation, and maintenance of these facilities. To Kennedy, what we are witnessing is a “perversion of democracy.” He further claims that the “facts” that are being disseminated by many officials are deliberate falsifications, thus our insistence to get to the absolute truths.
Filing a class-action lawsuit will provide injunctive relief to get our lax governor to come down to act on this issue. Furthermore, it will help us understand why the well cannot be flared out to dissipate the noxious gasses more quickly. Right now, the operations seem to be conducted under a veil of secrecy
The irony, asserts Alex Nagy of Food and Water Watch, is that we currently have the technology for 100% clean energy. How has America as a whole, let alone our community in particular, become so backward in addressing the demands of climate-change implications–compared to so many other Western nations? We cannot continue protecting oil and gas interests. We must break the alliances that many of our representatives have with these nefarious corporations.
We can do this by letting our office-holders know that “We will not take this anymore!” Our electeds must be willing to live up to their responsibility of protecting our interests first. . . or suffer the consequences. It is up to us to insist that our government act now to make our communities the safe, healthy, and flourishing places that we expect and deserve.
Right now we must concentrate on what is happening to our neighbors in Porter Ranch.
Interested in becoming a complainant in these lawsuits, see the following:
* Keep documentation for every single incident: relocation costs including lodging, food, transportation; medical bills (for humans and pets), and so forth
* Research the law firms which are approaching you—many are “ambulance chasers” and do not have the expertise that is required for such a massive class-action suit that is being pursued, let alone the individual cases that will arise over the exposure. Experienced law firms with a history of successes have to put up millions of their own dollars (with no guarantee of success) but are in a position to do so (Johnny-come-latelies simply do not have the means or experience).
A retainer agreement must be filled out and signed and turned in to the law firm you retain in order to be eligible for recompense for your claims.
Below you will find information on a consortium of four law firms with proven track records regarding environmental disasters:
Kennedy and Madonna, LLP Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is a partner in this firm and is known for his long, 35-year history engaged in environmental defense
Kennedy has insisted that these firms charge the lowest fees possible in order for the claimants to receive the greatest portion of any settlement. Panish Shea & Boyle, LLP Morgan and Morgan R. Rex Parris Law Firm
Call 855-300-4459; 310-477-1700