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Will the ‘invisible’ Porter Ranch #climate catastrophe lead to the largest lawsuit ever?

December 29th, 2015 · No Comments

That is the question that Shockwave asks in this guest post.

“Porter Ranch” refers to a massive California methane gas leak equivalent, while unchecked to 25% of that state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is, in terms of global impact, potentially of greater real import than Deepwater Horizon. With the latter, the Cabinet was in full crisis mode with multiple members of the Cabinet up late a night dealing with the crisis and the Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, working all channels to find any technology that could help address the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Not the case with Porter Ranch — unless, just like the methane gas, that crisis-mode reaction requires thermal imaging to see …

Someone I love lives in Porter Ranch.  She’s has been complaining about the smell of the gas for months.

SoCal Gas relocates hundreds of Porter Ranch residents while trying to fix leaking well

Javier Mendoza, a gas company spokesman, said the leaking well was installed in 1953. The former oil well was converted for the use of natural gas in 1973, after SoCal Gas began operating the depleted oil reserve at Aliso Canyon as a giant underground reservoir to store natural gas.

The well, which extends 8,500 feet below the earth, is one of 115 storage wells at the 3,600-acre facility. The facility can hold 86 billion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply all of Southern California for more than a month, Mendoza said. It was at 90% capacity when the leak was detected last month.

So [recently], I went to a meeting in Porter Ranch where none other than Erin Brockovich spoke. Erin Brockovich calls on her neighbors to unite over Porter Ranch gas leak 

More than 2,000 residents affected by a natural gas leak above Porter Ranch attended a community meeting … Brockovich … told the audience … she was their neighbor.

“I feel compelled to be here and to help my neighbor,” she said. “I certainly understand your plight and that we all have so much in common.”

Residents asked about health concerns and whether air filtration systems installed on their homes by the gas company would be effective.

More than 3,600 residents have left their homes or are in the process of relocation due to the odors emitted by a leaking gas well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains above Porter Ranch. Mercaptan, an additive to natural gas that smells like rotten eggs, has caused symptoms of nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and stomach discomfort among residents.

Southern California Gas Co. discovered the leaking well on Oct. 23. Officials have said it could take four months to cap the leak. Because the leak will likely drag on for months, county health officials have begun to monitor chemicals, some that are known carcinogens, in natural gas because those chemicals can cause long-term health effects. So far, the levels monitored have not reached a level of concern.

Erin Brockovich
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Erin Brockovich at Porter Ranch

Essentially, SoCal Gas converted this oil field into a gas storage field back in the 70s.  It is supplies natural gas to over 20,000,000 customers from Bakersfield all the way to San Diego.  But, according to what was said by the law firm involved, without a permit.  Back in October, So Cal Gas admitted that the smell of gas was coming from a well gone bad that they haven’t been able to cap, something reminiscent of the BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf.

So how much gas is leaking?

Porter Ranch gas leak increasing California’s greenhouse gas output by 25 percent

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that absorbs about twice as much heat as carbon dioxide.

“The leak was putting between 44,000 an 50,000 kilograms of methane into the air per hour,” said California Air Resources Board spokesman Dave Clegern.

Actually, methane is much worse than CO2;

We’ve seen that methane, which accounts for only 14 percent of emissions worldwide, traps up to 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 5-year period. This means that even though carbon dioxide molecules outnumber methane 5 to 1, this comparatively smaller amount of methane is still 19 times greater a problem for climate change over a 5 year period, and 4 times greater over a 100 year period.

To put it another way, any methane molecule released today is 100 times more heat-trapping than a molecule of carbon dioxide, or potentially even higher according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

And thousands of people in this suburb within the City of Angels are getting sick.

More families relocated due to Porter Ranch gas leak

More than 132 families have now been relocated from Porter Ranch as Southern California Gas Co. tries to repair a gas leak in nearby Aliso Canyon that has caused a rotten-egg smell to settle over the area.

SoCal Gas was ordered to provide free temporary relocation for affected residents by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The company has received an additional 552 inquiries from residents seeking relocation accommodations, Kristine Lloyd of SoCal Gas told KPCC.

The situation is in state of flux.  The magnitude of this disaster is unknown.  This is an infrared video of the gas in the air over Porter Ranch;

I got to ask a question of the panel, who was the lawsuit going to be against, SoCal Gas or its parent company Sempra Energy, famous elsewhere for its confrontation with Peruvians;

Contravening the spirit of the Peruvian anti-trust (anti-monopoly) law, Luz del Sur is currently trying to enter the Peruvian electricity generation market with its proposed mega hydropower project ‘Santa Teresa II’.

The ‘Santa Teresa II’ hydropower project proposes diverting 105 cubic meters of water from the Vilcanota river through a 14 km tunnel that will run underneath organic coffee and fruit plantations.[5] All tunnel and underground excavation works have irrefutable draining effects, which impact the ground water levels drastically and may even lead to major changes in landscapes.[6]

The Vilcanota valley is home to over 20,000 people who mainly live from agriculture and tourism. During the dry season a 22 km long stretch of the Vilcanota river will be left with less than 5 cubic meters of water. No sewerage system exists for the population and up to 25,000 tourists p.a. other than the Vilcanota river. Leaving a mere 5 cubic meters of water in the river will turn the river into a cloaca with dire consequences for the flora, fauna and people living along the river or visiting the area.

The population living along the Vilcanota river and is fully aware that if ‘Santa Teresa II’ is built their livelihood will be lost. Since September 2012 the population of the Vilcanota valley has been strongly and formally opposing ‘Santa Teresa II’.[7]

Nevertheless, Luz del Sur and its CEO Mile Cacic are forging ahead with this project. A fierce media campaign has been started by the company, which blatantly denies, against all geophysical evidence, that a 14 km tunnel will have a disastrous environmental impact on the buffer zone of the UNESCO world heritage site of Machu Picchu.[8]

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Me asking a question 

The lawsuit will be against both.  It will be a “mass toxic tort” and not a class action suit.

One question that caused an outcry was why hasn’t Governor Jerry Brown not declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch and some suggested it may be because his sister is in the Board of Directors of Sempra.

This is big and it’s going to get interesting.  I’ll diary as it develops.

SoCalGas trying to cap the gas leak above Porter Ranch with downtown LA in the distance;

 photo Porter Ranch
The out of control well above Porter Ranch with downtown Los Angeles in the distance
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Tags: climate change