Several months after an oil well on a construction site in Marina del Rey blew open, sending natural gas about 100 feet in the air, Los Angeles County officials met with angry residents to discuss the dangers posed by gas wells.
Dozens of people attended the forum, sparked by a Jan. 11 well blowout that released natural gas, water and mud into the air in a heavily populated area next to a marina. The hours-long meeting grew contentious, as many residents voiced concerns over the fact that it took a week to learn about the incident.
Betsy Butler, whose living room overlooks the well that blew out, said she didn’t learn about the incident for two weeks.
“I just wonder what is the county and what is the state doing on this issue,” Butler said. “It happened in January, I’ve heard nothing since.”
The blowout occurred during attempts to bring the well, first drilled in 1931, into compliance with current standards. The well was capped after a reported 10 minutes, but not before an estimated 100,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released, according to the California Department of Conservation.
A Youtube video showed an oil well worker rappelling to safety. The man was assessed for injuries and declined treatment on scene.
The incident prompted an emergency order from the state to bring the well under control and permanently plug it.
At the forum, L.A. County fire officials were on hand to explain the response to the incident. After the first fire engine arrived the day of the blowout, a captain assessed the situation and deemed that it was not an immediate threat to life so there were no notifications to residents, according to Battalion Chief Ken Haskett.
As a result of the incident, Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office created a motion for departments to work together to improve the notification process, according to fire officials.
“All departments are going to work with one another and we’re going to notify the public as soon as possible, as soon as we can,” said Assistant Chief Fernando Florez with the L.A. County Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials division.
Although there was no air monitoring during the release, officials believe the short duration was fortunate.
“Just the short duration itself provides us some comfort that people weren’t exposed to toxins for long periods of time that could be more harmful to your health,” said Katie Butler with the Department of Public Health’s Toxicology and Environmental Assessment Branch.
Many attendees also cited the broken well at the Aliso Canyon site, which forced thousands of families in the northwest San Fernando Valley to evacuate starting in 2015, after experiencing nosebleeds, nausea and headaches, and prompted firefighters to sue SoCalGas over exposure to carcinogens.
“This is what we have to prevent here in Playa,” said Alexandra Nagy, Southern California Organizer at the Los Angeles branch of Food & Water Watch, which hosted the forum along with Protect Playa Now!
The incident also renewed concerns over the Playa del Rey underground gas storage field, which has been a point of contention for decades.
“We need to be shutting down these facilities in our neighborhoods,” L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin told attendees, who broke out in applause. “This is a facility that does not belong here anymore, this is a facility that is causing risks to our community.”