Porter Ranch gas leak is one in series of CA disasters

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Hearing board action falls short of community demands to shut down Aliso Canyon Storage Facility

Three groups – Save Porter Ranch, the Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch – on Saturday, January 23 released a joint statement accusing the South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board (AQMD) of making a decision regarding the SoCalGas Leak that “fails to adequately protect residents” of Porter Ranch and other surrounding communities.

The gas blowout that continues as I write this is considered by many to be the worst disaster of its kind since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The leak detected on October 23, caused by well integrity failure, is only the most recent of many such leaks caused in California by aging infrastructure — and just one of the many environmental disasters that have ravaged California under the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations.

Over the past few months, thousands of residents have been displaced and sickened by the fumes that contain carcinogens including benzene and toluene. The gas leak has emitted methane at a rate of 50,000 kilograms per hour, equivalent to 25 percent of the state’s total emissions of this heat-trapping gas, according to the groups.The leak has forced more than 12,000 residents to relocate and 1,800 more households are waiting for relocation assistance.

“After three weeks of hearings and deliberation, AQMD issued a ‘Stipulated Order for Abatement,’ but residents and local elected officials say the order, which does not require the permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, falls short of what’s necessary to protect public health. The order also appears to contradict Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order to protect public safety,” according to the news release.

Gov. Brown’s order, issued January 6, requires state agencies to protect public safety and stop the leak by finding alternate supplies for natural gas and electricity; it also requires SoCalGas to maximize daily withdrawals of gas and to abide by a moratorium on gas injections in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, according to the groups.

The groups said the AQMD Hearing Board “engaged in a lengthy debate over whether a letter in which the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission ordered SoCalGas to keep 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas in reserve at the facility undermined AQMD’s authority to shut down Aliso Canyon by requiring a complete draw-down of the storage facility.”

“This move by the California Public Utilities Commission doesn’t protect the health and safety of residents of Porter Ranch and neighboring communities. It protects SoCalGas’ assets and it appears to violate Gov. Brown’s order to withdraw the maximum amount of gas from the field,” said Alexandra Nagy, Southern California Organizer with Food & Water Watch.

“SoCalGas has been unwilling protect residents because to drain its facility would harm its bottom line. Absent consistent leadership from Gov. Brown, SoCalGas and the CPUC are working together to keep as much gas in reserve as possible, threatening residents with further exposure to toxic emissions. Gov. Brown needs to clarify his order and demand the drainage and permanent shutdown of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility,” noted Nagy.

The groups also criticized the AQMD Hearing Board for issuing the Stipulated Order for Abatement “instead of using its full authority to require SoCalGas to cease and desist operations at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility by requiring the field to drawn down to the maximum extent possible.”

“This is an ongoing disappointment and no one is managing this crisis situation. Without strong leadership from Governor Brown, state agencies are passing the buck and letting SoCalGas continue to pollute the air and poison our communities,” said Matt Pakucko, President of Save Porter Ranch after a decision was reached. “Governor Brown needs to step in immediately to require the continued withdrawal of gas from Aliso Canyon until the field reaches equilibrium and is shut down.”

Governor Brown’s Executive Order also calls for a moratorium on gas injection at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility “until a comprehensive review, utilizing independent experts, of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community is completed.” This process has not been initiated, and residents are calling on Brown to make the moratorium on gas injections permanent.

“SQAMD’s failure to put Californians’ livelihoods first is shameful, and Governor Brown should intervene swiftly,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “There should be no other choice but to shut down the dangerous Aliso Canyon facility and look to close every urban oil and gas facility throughout California and our country, to ensure the health of our communities and our climate is never again sacrificed for corporate polluter profits.”

In other gas leak news, on January 26, the SQAMD sued Southern California Gas Co., accusing them of negligence in the massive gas leak. http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-85705041/

As gas leak continues, California fish populations drop to lowest recorded levels

While much has been written about the Porter Gas Leak in the mainstream and alternative media, reporters and editors have failed to explain that the methane blowout occurs within the larger context of California’s many other environmental disasters driven by the Brown administration’s questionable environmental policies. And these policies and subsequent disasters occur within the even larger context of the capture of the regulators by the regulated in California.

While Governor Brown has posed as a “climate leader” and “green governor” at conferences and photo opportunities around the globe, including the Paris Climate Talks in December, he has overseen water policies that have have brought once robust Central Valley salmon and steelhead and Delta fish populations to extinction’s edge, in addition to promoting the Delta Tunnels Plan, a project that will only cause further ecological, economic and cultural damage. This is an ecological disaster that will impact fish, wildlife and aquatic life populations up and down the West Coast.

As Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Tribe, said at a protest outside of a California Water Fix “workshop” in Sacramento on July 28, 2015: “Right now the existing water projects continue to damage our ecology. They have already harmed our fish and driven them to extinction. The tunnels will only complete the job. The tunnels that they want to build are large enough to divert the entire Sacramento River.”

“The tunnels are one key part of the plan that includes the Sites Reservoir, Shasta Dam Raise and Proposition 1, the water bond,” she said.

She said the water for the tunnels would be provided by Shasta Lake and Sites Reservoir – and that to fill Sites Reservoir, the Shasta Dam would be raised to hold more water from the Sacramento River.

The “green” Brown administration in 2011 presided over record water exports out the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — and the killing of millions of Sacramento splittail, an imperiled native minnow, and other species at the Delta pumps. (http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/30452-the-extinction-governor-rips-the-green-mask-off-his-tunnels-plan)

More recently, fish species ranging from endangered Delta Smelt to Striped Bass plummeted to record low population levels in 2015, according to the annual fall survey report released on December 18 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). (http://ecowatch.com/2016/01/22/california-fish-species-plummet)

Only 6 Delta smelt, an endangered species that once numbered in the millions and was the most abundant fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, were collected at the index stations in the estuary this fall. The 2015 index (7), a relative number of abundance, “is the lowest in history,” said Sara Finstad, an environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region.

Likewise, longfin smelt, a cousin of the Delta smelt, declined to the lowest abundance index (4) in the history of the survey. Only 3 longfin smelt were collected at the index stations throughout the three-month period. For more information, go to: http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/1/4/1466156/-Delta-Smelt-and-other-fish-species-plummet-to-record-low-levels

“Once the most abundant species in the estuary, we can now name smelt rather than count them,” observed Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

Brown promotes expansion of fracking, carbon trading and REDD

Meanwhile, Governor Brown promotes the expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques in California and backs potentially genocidal carbon trading policies and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), according to indigenous leaders. ( http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2015/12/9/1458504/-Indigenous-activists-challenge-Governor-Brown-for-backing-genocidal-carbon-trading-program)

In addition, Brown oversaw the “completion” of “marine protected areas,” created under the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, that don’t protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

And it was only after months of intense pressure from environmentalists, public health advocates and Porter Ranch residents that Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak disaster that began on October 23.

In an apparent familial conflict of interest, Brown’s sister, Kathleen, plays a significant role at Sempra Energy, the corporation that owns SoCalGas, the company responsible for the gas blowout. She earned $188,380 in her position as a board member in 2014 and $267,865 in 2013. (http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2015/12/19/1462031/-Jerry-Brown-s-ties-to-the-oil-and-gas-industry-highlight-regulatory-capture-in-CA)

Refugio Oil Spill disaster reveals Big Oil’s capture of regulatory apparatus

And you remember the Refugio Oil spill disaster of last spring and summer off the California coast? Both the mainstream and the corporate media refused to report on the biggest scandal of the disaster: the fact that the very same person who oversaw the creation of four “marine protected areas” that were fouled by the oil spill is the lobbyist for the pipeline company, Plains All American Pipeline.

Yes, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force that created the alleged “marine protected areas” on the South Coast! (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/brtf_bios_sc.asp)

Conflicts of interest like this one abound in a state where the regulatory apparatus has been captured by the regulated, including Big Oil, corporate agribusiness, the timber industry and other corporate interests. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2015/07/29/californias-biggest-secret-oil-industry-capture-of-the-regulatory-apparatus)