I'm no longer surprised when my nose suddenly starts to bleed. As a resident of Porter Ranch, I've become accustomed to unexpected nosebleeds, nausea and headaches— near daily reminders of the area's toxic environment.
Porter Ranch sits below Aliso Canyon, the source of the largest gas leak and methane release in United States history. In October 2015, one of the facility's 115 aging gas injection wells "blew out," spewing methane (a potent greenhouse gas), benzene (a carcinogen) and many other toxic emissions.
I had a nose bleed, in fact, on the morning of the first of two public hearings on the proposed reopening of Aliso Canyon. On Feb. 1, I joined my fellow residents, health advocates, elected officials and others in opposing Southern California Gas Company's plan to re-start their operations at this dangerous facility.
For roughly four months after the blow out, gasses continued to leak uncontrollably from the facility, releasing around 100,000 metric tons of methane and toxins into the atmosphere and doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles basin.
Although the full scale of the public health effects remains unknown, state officials from the Department of Conservation and the Public Utilities Commission gave SoCalGas a tentative green light to reopen the facility.
But the people of Porter Ranch want to keep it closed, for good reason. In over five hours of testimony at the hearings, many residents, geoscientists, engineers, environmental consultants and others spoke of the failure of regulatory agencies to address the urgent health and safety concerns and explained why Aliso Canyon should not reopen:
- SoCalGas and regulators have failed to produce a root cause analysis to determine the cause of the 2015 blowout.
- Until a recent legal settlement required them to do so—more on that below—SoCalGas refused to conduct a comprehensive health study.
- Neither of the regulatory agencies making the decision to re-open the facility have any public health expertise.
Our public health concerns are numerous - in addition to headaches, nausea, and constant nose bleeds, residents have reported widespread anemia, asthma, respiratory and cardio-pulmonary issues, and even cases of rare cancers.
At a press conference following the hearing, Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, a Porter Ranch physician, noted that he's followed 50 local patients since Nov. 2015. Their health problems, he said, occurred or worsened while they remained in Porter Ranch, and lessened or disappeared when the left the area. In his opinion, "Until a thorough study is performed by an independent agency and a scientific conclusion is drawn, it is nothing short of an act of negligence to reopen Aliso Canyon facility."
Those at the hearings overwhelmingly agreed. Councilmember Mitch Englander went so far as to argue that homes and the facility cannot coexist. Yet plans for new homes, apartments and a large shopping center in Porter Ranch are going forward.
Beyond health problems, the LA County Fire Department Hazmat division stated that it is essential to create a seismic study and risk management plan. The state's safety review predicts the Aliso Canyon area is likely to experience a magnitude 7+ earthquake within the next 50 years.
Just days after the recent hearings, a settlement in a lawsuit regarding Porter Ranch was announced. Despite the South Coast Air Quality Management District's (SCAQMD) finding that SoCalGas needed to spend $5 million to conduct an adequate health study, the settlement between the company and the regional air agency calls for SoCalGas to spend just 1/5 that amount. Just this week, the county health department stated that a comprehensive health study would actually cost $40 million.
Further, while the company faced a fine of $28 million, the settlement requires SoCalGas to pay just $5.65 million for their 112 days of uncontrolled emissions. Previously SCQAMD stated that they would pursue SoCalGas to the "fullest extent of the law," so we don't understand why the fine was more than $22 million short of the maximum.
The residents of Porter Ranch expect regulators and elected officials to stand for our health and safety, not for protecting irresponsible corporate polluters.
Kyoko Hibino is Director and Co-founder of Save Porter Ranch and a 10-year resident of the community.