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L.A. Neighborhood Learns About Methane Blowout a Week After It Happened

Energy
Oil Well Worker Escape

Residents, lawmakers and environmentalists from a seaside community in Los Angeles County are questioning why it took a whole week for government officials to inform them of a well blowout that sprayed natural gas and other fluids nearly 60 feet into the air for several minutes.

On Jan. 11, hotel construction workers in a populated area in Marina del Rey dug into an abandoned, 1930s-era oil well, causing an eruption of mainly methane, heavy abandonment mud and water. Video footage shows the fluids shooting high into the sky, and a worker rappelling away to avoid injury. The oil well was last sealed in 1959 and was in the process of being re-sealed before the release.


But government officials did not notify the public about the incident for at least a week, LAist reported, prompting major concern from local residents and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who said on Facebook that "the site is immediately across the street from the homes of several hundred City residents I represent."

"I am particularly concerned at the lack of notification to neighbors, and at continued risks of leaks due to a potential lack of structural integrity of the well, which state officials said was a 'serious concern.' This incident also raises concerns about other old and abandoned wells in the area," he added.

On Jan. 18, the California State Department of Oil Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) issued an emergency order to bring the well under control, to permanently plug the well and to investigate why it occurred.

The statement noted that the Jan. 11 blowout was a threat to life, health, property and natural resources.

"Because of the serious concerns about the structural integrity of the well and the sensitive location of the well, efforts to secure the site and properly plug and abandon the well must be undertaken without delay," DOGGR stated.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an incident update on Jan. 23 that said DOGGR learned of the incident on the afternoon of Jan. 11 and that "the leak was quickly contained and first responders reported from the scene that there was no continuing methane release."

"The well currently is emitting no gas and there is no emergency impacting public safety," the update stated.

Still, residents, lawmakers and environmentalists are wondering why state and local government officials failed to notify residents as soon as the leak was discovered.

Briana Mordick and Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are demanding accountability and transparency from DOGGR and other responsible state and local agencies, especially since DOGGR was one of the agencies that dealt with the infamous 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak that impacted thousands of residents of near Porter Ranch and caused significant environmental damage from methane pollution.

"People living near oil and gas operations have a right to know what's happening in their communities," Mordick and Nagami wrote.

"California is home to some of the densest urban oil and gas drilling anywhere in the U.S., with homes, schools, parks, and beaches located in some cases just tens of feet from oil and gas wells," they continued. "Nearly five and half million people in California live within one mile of an oil and gas well. It's also home to more than 140,000 plugged and abandoned wells, like the one in Marina Del Rey."

Councilmember Bonin concluded in his Facebook post that "fossil fuels are dangerous."

"Whether it is their production or their use, they threaten our environment and our safety," he wrote "That is why I support aggressive measures to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources, why I support the STAND-LA effort to impose a safe buffer from fossil fuel extraction and sensitive uses such as schools and residences, and why I am calling for additional investigation of this incident and greater assurances that my constituents are safe."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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