After four long months, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak is finally capped. But that doesn’t mean the disaster is over.
Urgent health and safety questions remain for the thousands of people driven from their Porter Ranch homes by noxious fumes. More broadly, it’s time for all Californians to think deeply about the extreme risks and high human cost of our fossil fuel use.
Despite fierce opposition from the company that owns the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, Senate Bill 380, which would continue a moratorium on gas injections at the site, narrowly passed out of committee last month.
While this is a step in the right direction, Californians are not protected by the state’s weak gas-storage regulations and hands-off approach to enforcement. The truth is that this disaster could easily have happened elsewhere in California. The storage facility in Playa del Rey, near Los Angeles International Airport, is older than Aliso Canyon and has a long history of leaks and other problems. A third gas-storage facility, Honor Rancho, is near Valencia in northern Los Angeles County.
And that’s just gas-storage wells. The infrastructure that oil and gas requires is vast, and in cities, it’s impossible to keep people safe when so many live so close to active oil drilling, refineries, and trains and pipelines. Last year, the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance had an explosion, a Plains All American pipeline near Santa Barbara ruptured and state regulators admitted allowing oil companies to drill thousands of injection wells into scores of protected underground water sources.
While calamities draw headlines, it’s the everyday reality that hurts residents the most.
Southern California’s air is among the worst in the nation. Yet in the Los Angeles area alone, about 1.7 million people live within one mile of an active oil and gas well. Hundreds of schools, retirement facilities, and day care centers are near these polluting operations. Children and people with asthma and heart conditions are more susceptible to health effects from pollutants from oil and gas development.
Sure, California has a green image when it comes to emissions standards and renewable energy. But we are still a major oil producer, and fracking, drilling and dangerous extraction methods contaminate our air and water. Drilling also contributes to global climate change.
The fossil fuel disasters of 2015 could be harbingers of calamity-filled years to come – or they could be a pivot point. There is a better way to power our world. That’s why we are dedicated to working with communities, religious institutions, farmers and scientists to put an end to dangerous and dirty energy. Let Porter Ranch be the last disaster.
Kassie Siegel is director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Jacobson is state director for Environment California and can be contacted at email@example.com.