Erin Brockovich: Porter Ranch Gas Leak Is Worst Environmental Disaster Since BP Oil Spill
Since October, residents of Porter Ranch, California, have been exposed to dangerous contaminants from a massive natural gas leak that continues to seep into the air, causing a catastrophe the scale of which has not been seen since the 2010 BP oil spill.
After only a week of visiting families in Porter Ranch, I am already experiencing the headaches, nausea and congestion that have plagued this community living at the center of one of the most significant environmental disasters in recent history.
Southern California Gas Co. or SoCalGas, has essentially ignored the impact to victims and its actions have instead added to their suffering. The company has refused to release air quality data that could be used to protect its residents, it has made relocation very difficult and it has forged ahead with plans to expand its facility before the leak has even been contained.
The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground and it shows no sign of stopping. As the pressure from weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area. According to tests conducted in November by the California Air Resources Board, the leak is spewing 50,000 kilograms of gas per hour—the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.
At this rate, in just one month, the leak will have accounted for one-quarter of the total estimated methane emissions in the state of California.
So it is no surprise that residents here feel sick. While I can escape to my home to recover from my symptoms, this community wakes up to conditions that cause vomiting, nosebleeds and serious respiratory issues daily. And no one really knows the potential long-term side effects of benzene and radon, the carcinogens that are commonly found in natural gas.
This dangerous environment is why the Los Angeles Unified School District unanimously voted last week to close two Porter Ranch schools and relocate their nearly 1,900 students and staff to protect their safety.
SoCalGas’ response to this disaster is almost as alarming as the impact on the community.
The company has offered some assistance in relocating residents in the affected area, but those efforts are woefully inadequate. People have been told they have to wait, they are 300th in line and that they will not be able to relocate before Christmas. Many residents simply cannot afford pay for a hotel or apartment while continuing to cover home costs. SoCalGas does not even know exactly how long it will take to fix the leak, but the company’s CEO has said it will be at least another three to four months. Curiously, despite this admission, SoCalGas is only offering three months of relocation to those fortunate enough to receive a return call.
The company has also refused to release the data from air quality monitoring it has conducted in the community, despite numerous requests from the public. The company is withholding vital information about the exact composition of the air—information that is critical for the thousands of residents who want to understand why they are so sick. That is why I have been out in the community distributing canisters that we hope will provide an independent verification of the toxicity in the air.
And while Porter Ranch continues to suffer, SoCalGas is moving ahead with a project to expand the Aliso Canyon facility, even though the company still has no idea how the gas leak there started and is unsure of how to fix it. The company hasn’t even established any risk management or emergency response plans in the event of another leak.
That is why I am working with the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg to seek justice for Porter Ranch and hold SoCalGas accountable for the physical and emotional damage they have caused and to ensure that something like this never happens again. This community should not have to wait any longer to receive the justice and fair treatment it deserves.
The situation Porter Ranch residents are facing today is unacceptable. It is time for SoCalGas to acknowledge this fact, gather whatever resources are necessary to help every resident now and provide answers about the health impacts to residents who have suffered for too long.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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