Shouting “shut it all down!” nearly 200 protesters gathered in Porter Ranch on Monday evening to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to lean on state regulators to close the Aliso Canyon gas fields once and for all.
The demand for action came on the same day Los Angeles County officials asked a superior court judge to stop state regulators from allowing the reopening of the Aliso Canyon gas fields, just above the Porter Ranch community, and to prohibit any immediate attempt to resume natural gas injections.
Porter Ranch residents filled the corners of Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street with signs that read “Jerry Brown! Shut Aliso Down!” and “Brown ain’t green,” to show their disapproval with the governor’s almost silent stance on the issue.
“It’s frustrating,” said Phil Hache, who has lived in Porter Ranch with his wife and two small children for five years. “The thing is, if they would just shut it down, I’d be happy.”
Activists have long called for closing Aliso Canyon permanently, saying it is dangerous because of continued leaks.
They also said the state’s decision to reopen the facility was made while several concerns remained, including:
•The root cause of the leak.
•The nearly 950 complaints of nosebleeds, headaches and nausea made to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health since March, 2016.
•Reports by consultants that have deemed the natural gas storage facility unnecessary, since alternative energy is available.
The state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission concurred last week that about a third, or 42, of the wells were safe for gas injection to resume by the Southern California Gas Co. But county officials said state regulators made the recommendation last week, despite a warning by a former SoCalGas manager over potential “catastrophic loss of life” in the event of a major earthquake, according to court documents.
• RELATED STORY: Ex-SoCalGas employee warned regulators of ‘potential catastrophic loss of life’ at Aliso Canyon
The state’s decision came almost two years after a massive natural gas leak above Porter Ranch sickened thousands of people, forcing them to temporarily leave their homes in the northwestern San Fernando Valley. The reported 100,000 metric tons of methane that spewed from one of 115 aged wells over more than three months in Aliso Canyon was considered unprecedented. The leak was capped in February 2016 and 60 percent of the wells were taken offline, but the root cause of the leak continues to be investigated, state regulators said.
“The County, and its residents whose health and safety it is duty-bound to protect, will suffer irreparable harm if DOGGR’s order authorizing SoCalGas to resume injections at the facility is not stayed until this Court can determine whether DOGGR’s actions comply with California law,” according to Monday’s filing.
The injunction was necessary to protect residents, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes Porter Ranch, said Monday in a statement.
“It’s critical to the health and safety of thousands of people for the seismic study and risk assessment/emergency response plan be completed before reopening, not afterwards, when it could be too late,” Barger said.
A hearing is set for Friday.
In a letter to shareholders on Monday, SoCalGas called the county’s claims “baseless and wrong.”
“Aliso Canyon is safe to operate,” according to the letter. “This is not just our conclusion, but the conclusion of the only State regulators with lawful jurisdiction and expertise to oversee the safety of our operations.”
The state’s decision followed 17 months of what state regulators called “rigorous inspection and analysis of wells” at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility as well as putting new protocols in place. But it also came on the same day when the state’s energy commissioner, Robert Weisenmiller, sent out an unexpected letter invoking Brown’s name and urging regulators to shut the wells down. Brown has never publicly called for shutting down the wells and said nothing further last week.
That letter and the county’s involvement offer some hope among Porter Ranch residents that their concerns are being heard, said protester Susan Gorman-Chang.
“It’s been 17 months that we’ve been going through this,” Gorman-Chang said. “I feel that it’s a win that the county is fighting for us.”