A fed-up crowd of San Fernando Valley residents commandeered the first of two meetings on the reopening of the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field last night, rising to their feet, roaring, “Shut it down!”
The crowd of about 350, packed to standing room, overwhelmed a mediator hired to shepherd the meeting. They demanded more time to describe health problems they say still plague them a year after a blown gas well in hills above their home was finally brought under control.
The meeting was called by the California Department of Conservation. The crowd overwhelmingly opposed allowing Southern California Gas to renew use of its valuable asset, the second largest underground gas storage field in the western United States. SoCal Gas is a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, and is facing several lawsuits related to the disaster, the largest known natural gas release in history.
Federal, state and local officials, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, Rep. Brad Sherman, State Sen. Henry Stern, Los Angeles County supervisor Kathryn Barger, city councilman Mitch Englander, school board member Scott Schmerelson and the Los Angeles County fire and health departments vowed support to the residents.
Assistant Chief Walter Uroff of the county fire department’s environmental health hazard team said he wanted to see both a seismic study of the underground field and a root cause analysis of the disaster completed before any further gas is injected.
No new gas has flowed from pipelines into storage since the broken well was discovered to be streaming invisible methane hundreds of feet into the air in October 2015. Southern California Gas is eager to begin storing gas underground again. Storage provides a cushion for supply and demand. Cold days in winter are peak demand for the company.
Los Angeles County deputy director for health protection Angelo Bellomo rued the lack of health focus among the top decision makers.
“I wish really in California we had a state regulatory agency for these types of facilities that was health-oriented,” he said to applause.
Dozens of people formed two lines waiting to testify, stretching past the back doors of the room at the Hilton Woodland Hills here the meeting took place.
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Ben Kaczor, a longtime Porter Ranch resident who was forced to move away, said his life was upended in the fallout. His family suffered ongoing headaches, sore throats, dizziness and nosebleeds, which have led them to internists; ear, nose and throat specialists; a cardiologist and most recently, a nephrologist, who recommended an ultrasound of his kidneys and bladder. The inspector who visited his home last year, he said, found oil stains “all over my beautiful house, all over my cars.”
One woman who tried to speak in favor of reopening Aliso Canyon was booed and shouted down by the angry crowd. The same happened to Stuart Waldman with the Valley Industry Commerce Association. He had to submit his comments in writing.
Prior hearings, even larger ones, over these months, have been more tolerant of differing views. Frustration permeated the meeting.
Well before it was scheduled to end, the mediator abruptly adjourned, acceding to the lack of order. Tonight a second hearing is scheduled.