Gas Leak in the SFV

By Rosemary Jenkins

I have written in the past about the fracking activities in the Northwest San Fernando Valley in an area called Porter Ranch, specifically in the area located above Aliso Park.  There have been a number of forums over time to address community concerns.  Thus, last Sunday a town hall was scheduled to update us on what is happening regarding this frustrating issue and what we can anticipate transpiring in the near future.

It is both ironic and coincidental that the previously announced meeting at Shepherd of the Hills Church was held right after a serious gas leak was discovered in the same Porter Ranch/Aliso Canyon location.  Yet the Southern California Gas Company/Sempra did not address at that meeting the concerns over what is undoubtedly a serious incident.  The company denies there is a problem, attributing what occurred to a “normal gas-releasing process” that is done once a month.  Perhaps because of these staunch denials, it is impossible to find any coverage in our newspapers and television and radio media about it.

The reality, however, shows otherwise. Community members have made every effort to contact the proper authorities for answers and actions.  The Gas Company and the AQMD (Air Quality Management District) have finally gotten involved but claim they are waiting for a Texas expert to arrive to analyze the issue (like we don’t have any experts here—the home of Cal Tech).

The demands of the community for answers to their pressing questions are as follows:

~cause of the leak
~the number of the well responsible for the incident
~what efforts will be made to seal the infrastructure
~inspection and reports from AQMD and from other relevant agencies
~what is the frequency of the “venting gas procedures” that pollute the air and what are their possible health effects—long and short term

The records from the Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) indicate that the pipe in question is at least 40 years old.  Of course it is time-consuming and costly to replace infrastructure on a regular and timely basis but we cannot keep kicking the can down the road.  The imperative is that remedies be completed before ill-effects on the environment and the living beings in it are adversely affected—now and into the future.  If we do not demand immediate maintenance, we shall be looking to a future whose existence will be well-nigh unlivable, and at that point we will be able to blame no one but ourselves if we do not insist that faults and deficiencies in the system be rectified post-haste.

Meanwhile, what are residents supposed to do when they are experiencing the stench from this gas (a good thing that a prior ruling mandates that additives be included in gas so that we mere mortals can detect leaks) and possibly even methane?  At least 3 people have already gotten very ill and have needed medical attention.  These are the kinds of problems that also exacerbate symptoms for those with bronchial, heart, noise bleed, and related issues.

These are the very indicators that have been associated with the fracking processes at the Termo oil fields in the adjoining region.  In addition, authorization for its unconscionable request for adding fracking sites and oil pads in the area is still whirling around in the board rooms of the County Supervisors.  We can no more allow permitting such action with regard to fracking than we can stand by and not demand immediate redress be made by the Gas Company.

In the meantime, the community is getting conflicting information, but we cannot afford to wait until these versions are reconciled.  We cannot wait for the Texas expert while people are becoming ill.  Residents neither have been officially notified about the problem (what they do know has principally been accessed through word-of-mouth) nor have they been subject to an evacuation plan that would last until the environment becomes healthy again.

We cannot wait and will not wait.  We must press our representatives to do whatever it takes to mitigate and ameliorate this issue on behalf of their constituents and for the rest of us.  Don’t anyone for a minute think that if we are not living within the Porter Ranch boundaries, we cannot somehow be affected in turn.  So we must support the Porter Ranch efforts on everyone’s behalf.

AQMD and the Fire Department have, in fact, confirmed that SoCalGas has experienced a well-casing failure at the site in question and that this failure has caused the dangerous leak that has previously been denied.
As experts have said, “This is a clear example of why we need to transition away from natural gas to 100% clean energy. The longer we rely on fossil fuels, the longer we expose our communities to toxic pollution that accelerates climate change.”
How much more of these extreme weather events can we accept before we do something meaningful about them?  What is resolved at Porter Ranch will be a meaningful step and will presage what occurs elsewhere.

For more information, please contact the following:
~South Coast Air Quality Management District
~the Southern California Gas Company
~your County Supervisor
~your City Councilmember

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