The Aliso Canyon gas blowout of October 23, 2015, from the SoCalGas San Fernando Valley gas storage facility, was historic. The biggest methane and poly-toxin blowout in U.S. history caused more environmental damage than even the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and still untold damage to area resident’s health and finances. The main blowout lasted 111 days, with many other dangerous emissions before and since. So many people were quickly sickened that the LA County Health Department ordered SoCalGas to pay for, in the end, 23,000 people to leave their homes and relocate for up to six months or longer. Two LAUSD schools were moved. Many parts of Porter Ranch looked like a ghost town. Businesses suffered heavy losses.
What did we learn, what has occurred, and where are we a half decade later?
CPUC investigations revealed there have been 320 safety violations since the blowout. SoCalGas has a track record forty years of sixty leaks and two previous blowouts, causes uninvestigated, per the state commissioned Blade Root Cause Analysis report. And since the blowout, dozens of emissions events have occurred, some documented by the SCAQMD. Two brushfires rolled through the gas facility. One negligent fire was started by “oily rags” on the property. Another fire burned from underground for days in 2019, and they still don’t know why. Contamination spilled into the creek that runs into the community, two sizable earthquakes happened nearby (we got lucky).
Many 1000s of people continue to report a plethora of health problems they directly attribute to exposure to the chemicals and gasses from the blowout and the facility. There were many attempts by SoCalGas to block all evidence in some 30,000 personal injury lawsuits. There are 150 shipping containers of contaminated material still stored there, hidden, until July 2020, 31 of them already secretly moved thru San Fernando Valley neighborhoods, untested by the County Health Department. SoCalGas attempted to remove them all secretly but were stopped so they could be tested.
Nothing but bad news keeps coming from that facility. But there’s more.
All the wells transect the Santa Suzanna fault line. An internal report by SoCalGas management in 2009 warned: In the event of a slip on that fault, there could be “a firestorm of unimaginable proportions.” and “potential for catastrophic loss of life.” (their words) for the North San Fernando Valley. That was hidden from regulators but divulged by a whistleblower.
The full list of chemicals released into homes during the 111-day catastrophe, and prior and since, has not been released, citing “trade secrets”. LA County Supervisors refuse to subpoena that information.
SoCalGas themselves warned in 2014 that the facility was suffering a “negative well integrity trend” (deteriorating), asked for a rate hike to fix that, were declined and yet they did not do their due diligence and pay for their own maintenance.
After post-blowout, newly mandated repairs, the facility was certified “safe” by two state regulators: DOGGR and the CPUC in February 2017. But when SoCalGas resumed injections after a nearly two-year stop, fully 33% of the wells leaked within 2 weeks! Then on Feb 1 2019, SoCalGas discovered corrosion in a pipeline at the facility, requiring them to reduce gas usage from there by approximately one-third. By their own admission on March 12, 2019, at a California senate oversight hearing, the CPUC’s then president said they do not have the capacity to ensure safety of the infrastructure they regulate. Yes, he actually said that.
The city, the county, and the state all settled and were paid every cent the disaster cost them. They moved on. The victims have received zero. Yes, Zero. Literally zero. 5 years later.
SO WHY ON EARTH IS THAT FACILTY STILL OPERATING?
Contrary to SoCalGas’ claims, Aliso Canyon is not needed for energy in Southern California, per at least two independent studies and two real-world years when it was shuttered, post-blowout, the energy grid reconfigured to compensate, and thus the facility was not needed. And yet last week the CPUC staff recommended to increase the capacity from the current restricted, one third volume of 34 billion cubic feet, up to the maximum! Like all of the above never even happened.
That place needs to be shut down permanently for the health and safety and well-being of San Fernando Valley residents. And as part of California’s move away from fossil fuel.
And yet our biggest enemy in doing that is our elected officials and our government agencies!
Governor Gavin Newsom: Shut Aliso Down. You can do that with an Executive Order, because of the ongoing health crisis it’s causing, just like you did for the COVID 19 health crisis. Or at bare minimum, stop Aliso withdrawals and put the energy grid back on the highly effective protocol that kept that facility safely offline for 2 years.
Do it before the next disaster happens.
And there is always a next disaster.
Matt Pakucko, President and Co-Founder of Save Porter Ranch, a non-profit resident’s advocacy group in the North San Fernando Valley. He and his co-founders started the group to take the charge to stop 12 new oil wells from being drilled next to their residential neighborhood. Suddenly overnight, he and his organization were synonymous with, and the leaders in, addressing the biggest methane global warming disaster ever.