May 20, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Porter Ranch: Could This Be A New San Bruno?:

A flood of lawsuits began within weeks after a huge, still-ongoing leak of natural gas arose in late October from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility 1,200 feet above the Porter Ranch area in the northern reaches of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

There’s a class action on behalf of many residents and a suit by the city of Los Angeles, plus individual actions by homeowners.

These suits claim negligence, ultra-hazardous activity and “inverse condemnation” of property, among other items. There are no fatalities, but the legal language is akin nevertheless to charges made against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. after the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, which killed eight persons and devastated dozens of homes.

It’s too soon to say SoCal Gas was negligent because no one has actually seen the source of the leak, which still spreads noxious odors and greenhouse gases for miles around. (The Aliso Canyon storage site is about one mile from the edge of upscale Porter Ranch.)

Suspected cause is crumbled or cracked concrete in a well hundreds of feet underground, says the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Whatever the cause, this is unquestionably a disaster, even though Gov. Jerry Brown – whose sister is a director of SoCal Gas’ parent company, Sempra Energy – has yet to call it one.

Plus, the utility still has not deployed the most modern inspection techniques for checking on its other wells. It seeks approval from the PUC to charge customers $30 million a year for six years to use a state-of-the-art “Storage Integrity Management Program,” but won’t say why it doesn’t deploy the new technique now, rather than awaiting approval for the charge as part of a pending general rate case.

There’s also the late action of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas andGeothermal Resources, which on Nov. 18 – four weeks after the leak began –issued an emergency order compelling action to plug it, explaining ironicallythat it “didn’t want SoCal Gas and its contractors to losetime…”

But is this the equivalent of San Bruno, which did not displace nearly as many persons, but for which PG&E still faces criminal charges and was assessed a $1.6 billion fine?

Did SoCal Gas react too slowly? The company says it observes all four of its storage fields daily and checks well pressure weekly. “The leaking well had passed its most recent inspection,” said a spokeswoman.

The utility also is relocating residents who want a temporary move. By late December more than 4,000 families had applied, with at least 2,100 resettled in various housing types (sometimes it’s a single hotel room for a large family). Not until Christmas week did SoCal Gas agree to act on each relocation request within 72 hours. Two schools have also closed; it’s still unclear who will pay for that.

Thousands of the area’s 30,000-odd residents blame the leak for ailments like nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory problems and vomiting, even though federal, state and local health officials say the gas carries no serious health risks. The noxious odor it bears stems from chemicals added to alert people when they have leaks of otherwise odorless gas.

Most likely, no one will ever prove whether long-term health detriments exist. By the time cancers might develop 20 to 30 years from now, residents will have been exposed to enough other environmental factors that singling out the gas leak would be difficult even if a cancer cluster should occur among today’s Porter Ranch residents.

While there’s absolutely no doubt about the cause of death for the eight persons who died in San Bruno, there will likely never be such certitude around Porter Ranch.

And so far, there’s been no official determination of negligence, either. “No one can be certain what caused the damage until the (concrete) casing is inspected,” says the state Oil and Gas division.

That can’t happen until the leak is stopped, which SoCal Gas says might be months away.

All of which means, despite the lawsuits, it’s too early to demonize SoCal Gas, even as many residents complain about everything from a slow initial response by the utility to serious and immediate health problems and inadequate relocation housing. This will never be identical to San Bruno, but it could turn out just as badly for the utility involved and those who regulate it.

in Opinion
Related Posts

Column From Santa Monica Mayor Himmelrich: We Walk the Talk

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor  I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better!

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

It’s appalling to see what’s happening in our city – projects recently built or about to be approved – in...

Renting Your Second Home

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway,...

Column: Cities Fight to Maintain Distinctive Characters

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gelson’s, Boxed-In

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

This week we are re-visiting an article from 2018 regarding the Miramar project, by simply replacing the word “Miramar” with...

Column: Are You Talking Yourself Out of Saving for Retirement? Here’s How to Break the Habit

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

Saving for retirement can be an abstract concept. It’s something we all know we should do, but the farther away...

SMa.r.t. Column: Failure to Plan…

April 30, 2022

April 30, 2022

Over the last approximately two years your City has been busy trying to respond to new California laws that are...

Letter to Editor: Your “Standing Firm With Santa Monica” Initiative

April 25, 2022

April 25, 2022

The following is an open letter to Councilmember Sue Himmelrich from Santa Monica resident Arthur Jeon regarding a proposed transfer...

SMa.r.t. Column: Planning The Real Future

April 24, 2022

April 24, 2022

In the 1970s, renowned USC architecture professor Ralph Knowles developed a method for planning and designing cities that would dramatically...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan: The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 15, 2022

April 15, 2022

Part II: Who pays the proposed transfer tax and where does the money go? Last week, we introduced the proposed...

Column: NIMBYs Getting a Bad Rap

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

By Tom Elias Rarely has a major group of Californians suffered a less deserved rash of insults and attacks than...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan – The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

Part 1 of 2 In this two-part article, we will discuss both the proposed transfer tax ballot initiative and the...

Column: Tackling Childcare Costs

April 7, 2022

April 7, 2022

Finding affordable, quality childcare is essential for many working parents. The current shortage of care options is helping drive up...

SMa.r.t. Column: Tunneling for Mobility

April 1, 2022

April 1, 2022

Editor’s note: this is an April Fools Day column and is intended to be satire.  Starting this year permits from...

SMa.r.t. Column: The Value of Our Boulevards

March 28, 2022

March 28, 2022

Following is a composite of past articles dealing with the accelerated demise of our beachfront environment together with the increasing...