This was the week that started with our realization that we were dealing with the worst air pollution disaster in history with regard to the Porter Ranch gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon that belonged to Southern California Gas Company. According to the January 24th edition of the L.A. Times, one failed well at the Aliso Canyon facility released more greenhouse gases than any other facility in California over the three months since October 23rd.
Stephen Conley, the U.C. Davis scientist who has been flying his single engine pollution-detecting airplane over Porter Ranch found that in November of 2015, methane levels registered at 50 parts per million, twenty times bigger than what he had measured before. According to the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 17.9 million kilograms of methane was leaking in early November. However, by January 21 of this year, the cumulative amount of methane registered 84 million kilograms. In relatable terms, this would be roughly analogous to 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or more greenhouse gas than 440,000 cars emit in a year. The geographical extent of the billowing plumes of methane gas seen on FLUOR images reach as far away as Orange County and San Clemente Island, according to Riley Duren, NASA‟s researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.
By Tuesday, January 26th The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) sued Southern California Gas Co. accusing the company of negligence that extended to the design, construction, operation and inspection of one of the wells at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility that forced thousands to leave their homes. The lawsuit alleges that the gas company had violated air quality regulations and state law for each day that the well, SS-25, continues to leak and faults the utility for a sluggish response to a regional public health threat. The suit seeks up to $250,000 in civil penalties for each day that a specific violation has occurred. According to KPCC, this can amount up to $25 million dollars. All of this came after an abatement order by a special board of the AQMD on the previous Saturday, January 23rd. This board mandated a 1) permanent shut down of the damaged well, SS-25, 2) to establish a leak detection system, and 3) to conduct an independent health study. By Thursday, January 28th, our state Senate had voted to shut down the Aliso Canyon facility permanently.
As an environmental activist and a physician, I am glad that I testified at the AQMD hearing on Saturday, January 16th warning the board about the health hazards of methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene that were discovered in the air surrounding the residential area. I was also honored to be a Sierra Club spokesperson and interviewed with Al Jazeera America and KABC-7 on Thursday, January 28th. This is in essence my Valentine‟s Day present to the residents of Porter Ranch, Granada Hills that we stand with them shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them as we face this environmental disaster together.