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By Byron Chan
Almost 15,000 residents of Los Angeles' Porter Ranch neighborhood evacuated their homes in the fall of 2015, many of them suffering from headaches, breathing problems and nosebleeds. The culprit: a massive leak of carcinogenic chemicals at SoCalGas's nearby Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility. From October 2015 until February 2016, the facility expelled more than 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.
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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.
A major California utility has agreed to pay nearly $120 million in a civil settlement over a huge methane leak that forced thousands to flee their homes in 2015.
By Kate Konschnik and Sarah Marie Jordaan
U.S. natural gas production has boomed in the past decade, driving gas prices sharply downward. Natural gas has become a competitive choice for electricity generation, edging out coal. Because gas contains less carbon than coal, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have dropped, and the U.S. grid has become cleaner, more efficient and more flexible. More natural gas is also entering the power sectors in Mexico and Canada.
But the low-carbon profile of natural gas doesn't tell the whole story. Methane, its primary component, is a powerful greenhouse gas. It leaks to the atmosphere from wells and pipelines, contributing to climate change and reducing the climate benefit of using natural gas.
Comparison of detected atmospheric methane over Aliso Canyon, acquired 11 days apart in January 2016. The left picture was taken by NASA's Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on a NASA ER-2 aircraft at 4.1 miles altitude. The right picture was taken by the Hyperion instrument on NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite in low-Earth orbit. Photo credit: NASA
Aliso Canyon's methane leak in Porter Ranch in October 2015 marked the first time an orbiting spacecraft measured a leak from a single facility on Earth. The leak was spotted by the Hyperion spectrometer on NASA's Earth Observing-1, according to a study by David R. Thompson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.
The Hyperion spectrometer was able to detect methane on three separate occasions, Thompson's paper states. NASA said the research was part of an investigation into the accidental leak, which released 94,500 tons of methane into the atmosphere, according to the latest data. The orbit observations were consistent with airborne measurements, NASA reported.
Equipment and machinery is seen in Aliso Canyon facility. Photo credit: Scott L, Wikimedia commons
Developing more instruments with similar capabilities to the Hyperion, or with even better ones, will help scientists understand the amount of methane produced by human activities and spot areas on Earth's surface that are big releasers.
"The percentage of atmospheric methane produced through human activities remains poorly understood," Thompson said. "Future instruments with much greater sensitivity on orbiting satellites can help resolve this question by surveying the biggest sources around the world, so that we can better understand and address this unknown factor in greenhouse gas emissions."
“Every gas leaves its fingerprint on the light that passes through it," he said. “So what the algorithms we applied do is they examine the imagery from the spacecraft to see the very unique spectral signature of methane, and then map it over wide locations."
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In an effort to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, Tesla and Southern California Edison have unveiled a massive battery storage facility at the utility's Mira Loma substation in Ontario, California.
The project—which is being described as the largest lithium-ion battery storage project in the world—consists of 396 stacks of Tesla Powerpack units spread across 1.5 acres. The batteries can store up to 80 megawatt hours, or enough energy to power 15,000 homes for four hours.
"This project is part of our vision at Southern California Edison to take advantage of the wind and the sun, and operate a flexible grid that delivers clean energy to power our homes, our businesses and our vehicles," Kevin Payne, CEO of Southern California Edison, said at a ribbon-cutting event Monday.
"Standing here today among these Tesla Powerpacks is a great reminder of how fast technology is changing the electric power industry and the opportunities that will come with it."
Mira Loma Battery Storage Project ribbon cutting. From L-R, State Sen. Henry Stern , CPUC President Michael Picker, Tom Doughty of CAISO, SCE CEO Kevin Payne and JB Straubel, Tesla chief technical officer. Southern California Edison
While the project officially switched online on Monday it began operating in December.
"We are very excited to bring this site online," said Tesla's chief technical officer JB Straubel. "Storage is quite a new thing … and this is a different breed of battery. This is the tip of the iceberg of how much storage we'll see on the grid."
The batteries charge up when there is more renewable energy than demand, ultimately allowing customers to use clean energy during peak hours.
As the New York Times explained, California has a need for batteries to store surplus renewable energy:
"California is on track to have an overabundance of energy during the day, when its many solar panels are producing energy, but that supply drops sharply as the sun sets, precisely when demand rises, with residents heading home to use appliances and, increasingly, to charge cars.
"The state's aging nuclear plants have been closed or are being phased out, putting even more pressure on utilities to find other ways to feed the grid. Storage is a natural solution, utility executives say, helping to smooth variations in the power flow from rooftop customers and when solar falls off and conventional plants have not yet filled the gap."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk was not at the ribbon-cutting ceremony but he retweeted a company tweet in support of the project. In the clip below, Tesla touts that its new facility, which only took 94 days to install, reduces the reliance on gas speaker plants, prevents electricity shortages, provides energy secure and reduces greenhouse gases:
Tesla and Southern California Edison agreed on the project in September following orders from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The regulators sought to expedite the use of energy storage connected to the grid to mitigate the disastrous Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, which thrust an estimated 96,000 metric tons of potent methane into the atmosphere for four months beginning in October 2015. The leak also forced thousands of residents in the nearby Porter Ranch community from their homes.
"This was unprecedented fast action on the part of the CPUC," said Michael Picker, the commission's president. "And we are once again stunned by the battery industry to meet our needs. This is another example of progress."
It is unclear how much the Tesla-Edison installation cost, as lithium batteries can be pricey. However, as Fortune pointed out, "until recently, battery storage has been a far more expensive means of meeting demand surges than natural gas 'peaker' plants. However a rapid fall in lithium ion battery prices over the past two years—driven by the proliferation of electric cars—has made the technology far more viable."
Tesla and Southern California Edison are not the only energy storage facilities being rolled out. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Gas & Electric and AES Energy Storage as well as Greensmith Energy Partners and AltaGas are installing other large battery installations.
"In all, the projects are adding 77.5 megawatts of energy storage to the state's electricity grid," the Los Angeles Times reported.
California is vigorously pursuing clean energy projects to combat climate change. The state has a target of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
"Energy storage projects like this one play a role in California's clean energy future," Payne said. "They are also part of our mission to safely deliver reliable, affordable and clean energy to our customers."
Musk said in a May 2015 interview that he wants to "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy" and "the goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world."
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In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
In that spirit, and as part of the ongoing civil disobedience campaign against gas storage called We Are Seneca Lake—of which I am part—seven protesters from six different New York counties declared their support for the residents of Porter Ranch, California, where a massive leak from an underground gas storage facility has sickened and displaced thousands of families and shows no sign of abating.
The seven formed a human chain across the north entrance of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 at8:45 a.m. Monday morning. While blocking all traffic entering and leaving the facility, the group offered a statement of solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch before their arrest by Schuyler County deputies at 9:15 a.m.
The blockaders held banners that said, “Seneca Lake to Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down" and “Gas Storage Courts Disaster."
All those arrested were transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff's department, charged with disorderly conduct, and released. The total number of arrests in the sixteen-month-old civil disobedience campaign now stands at 467.
The uncontrolled gas leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility—the single largest in the U.S.—was discovered on Oct. 23, 2015. California Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency on Jan. 6. Thus far, more than 2,500 families have fled their homes and more than 1,000 children have been relocated to other schools. Health officials now acknowledge they initially underestimated the scope of the gas leak and the possible attendant health risks. Self-reported health complaints include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and headaches.
As We Are Seneca Lake protesters noted in their declaration of support, the massive gas leak at Porter Ranch is a problem with no end in sight and no obvious solution: “People of Porter Ranch, we know your lives were upended because no one replaced a safety valve at the bottom of the well. We don't believe we have bottom safety valves here either ... What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow."
Elizabeth Peet, 48, of the Town of Hector in Schuyler County, said, “Today as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded that my civic responsibility includes civil disobedience while my elected officials continue to fail to protect our lake and surrounding communities from dangerous gas storage expansion."
Michael Black, 63, of Lakemont in Yates County, said, “I was born in Schuyler County and have lived on the shores of Seneca Lake for nearly a half century. I now live seven miles from Crestwood. What happens here happens to me as well. If the gas storage facility here were to leak—as is happening in southern California—I could be in danger. If it explodes I would likely be killed."
The We Are Seneca Lake movement opposes Crestwood's plans for methane and LPG storage in lakeside salt caverns and has been ongoing since October 2014.
Crestwood's methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.
The seven arrested Monday were: Richard Battaglia, 53, Richford, Tioga County; Michael Black, 63, Lakemont, Yates County; Caroline Byrne, 39, Ithaca, Tompkins County; Angela Cannon-Crothers, 50, Naples, Ontario County; Kim Knight, 31, Covert, Seneca County; Stacey McNeill, 45, Ithaca, Tompkins County; and Elizabeth Peet, 48, Hector, Schuyler County.
Below is the full text of the message that I delivered to the people of Porter Ranch on behalf of We Are Seneca Lake. And you can watch my statement via video here:
Seneca Lake Stands with Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down!
In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Today, on the national holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. King, we gather near the shoreline of Seneca Lake in New York State, on a simple driveway to make our own declaration.
This is not just any driveway. It's contested ground. In the last 16 months, there have been 460 arrests on this strip of pavement for civil disobedience in objection to the expansion of underground gas storage in old salt mines on the banks of our beautiful lake. Some of us have gone to jail.
Today, we affirm our network of mutuality with people who live three time zones away in a California community called Porter Ranch.
The wind chill on this hillside is minus one degree, and we are cold. But we know that people of Porter Ranch are suffering magnitudes more. The leak from Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility near Porter Ranch has been pouring 1,000 tons of climate-killing methane into the air every hour for the past three months. We all share the same atmosphere.
We know it's the biggest gas leak in U.S. history. We know it's an official state of emergency. We know there is no end in sight and there is no clear way to fix it.
We know that the fumes from this single leak have sickened people and dropped birds, dead, from the sky. We know that the risk of a massive fire is so great that planes cannot fly over the site and cellphones and watches are forbidden on the site.
We know that more than 2,500 Porter Ranch families have been forced to evacuate and children have been forced to change schools.
Meanwhile, seven different efforts to plug the faulty well that is the source of the leak, has only further destabilized the situation, expanding a crater around the wellhead that threatens the possibility of a full blow-out. And the attempts by Southern California Gas to drill a relief well will take at least six more weeks—and may not work either. These are hard truths to hear. But we hear them.
And we watched closely last Friday when people gathered in front of the Environmental Protection Agency offices and urged the EPA to entirely shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, which is not a specially engineered tank but simply a big hole in the ground left over from drilling and extracting oil. The people said, “Shut it all down!"
So, we want you to know that we are listening. And we, who stand right now, right here, on top of decrepit salt caverns that are slated to serve as storage vessels for massive amounts of pressurized gas echo your words back to you. Like your depleted oil field, our salt caverns were never engineered to hold natural gas either.
People of Porter Ranch, we know your lives were upended because no one replaced a safety valve at the bottom of the well. We don't believe we have bottom safety valves here either.
Seneca Lake and Porter Ranch are tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow. We look at the myriad injustices that you are now compelled to endure, and we see our own future.
Martin Luther King urged us to confront injustice and bend the arc of history in another direction. And he gave us some tactics to use in our efforts. One of them is non-violent civil disobedience. That's what we are doing today. We do it to amplify your own message. And we do it in the fervent hope that we can change our story, that there will be no Porter Ranch at Seneca Lake.
We Are Seneca Lake and we join you in saying, “Shut it all down!"
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It now looks like the catastrophic Porter Ranch gas leak, which has spewed more than 83,000 metric tons of noxious methane for nearly three months, has spread across Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander called on the Southern California Gas Co. to extend residential relocation assistance to residents in Granada Hills, Chatsworth and Northridge who live near the Aliso Canyon gas leak above Porter Ranch. These residents reported symptoms related to the exposure of natural gas such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and respiratory problems.
This latest development compounds with a new analysis from Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET). The Cambridge-based nonprofit sent Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips and Bob Ackley of Gas Safety to take methane measurements around the San Fernando Valley for several days and their findings were disturbing.
As the Los Angeles Daily News wrote, "the researchers recorded elevated levels of the main ingredient in natural gas—10 miles away from the nation’s largest gas leak."
"It's not just in Porter Ranch, it's going all the way across the [San Fernando] Valley," Ackley told Inside Climate News.
According to HEET, the researchers drove a high precision GIS-enabled natural gas analyzer down the roads around the gas leak to create a comprehensive map of the leak around San Fernando Valley. The red on the map indicates where they drove and the levels of methane they found is shown by the height of the peaks.
Their monitors showed methane levels at 3.4 parts per billion, about twice the level of natural clean air, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Another measurement showed 127 ppm, or an astounding 67 times above normal.
"Whatever else may be in the gas—benzene, toluene, xylene—that is what people may be breathing," Phillips told Inside Climate News. "Even though we're not measuring things other than methane, there is a legitimate concern that there is that other nasty stuff in there."
As Inside Climate News observed: "The findings challenge assurances from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the regional air pollution control agency, and the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that the leak hasn’t increased residents' exposure to toxic gases."
Dozens of public health and environmental advocates and experts will rally at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC tomorrow to press for federal action on the Porter Ranch leak.
Friday’s rally, organized by members from Food & Water Watch and other organizations, will ask the U.S. EPA to intercede and permanently shut down operations at a blown-out gas storage facility in California.
Southern Caliifornia Gas Co. has evacuated more than 2,000 residents living near the leak since October. Porter Ranch was officially declared a state of emergency by California Gov. Jerry Brown, however, advocates have criticized his slow response to the escalating public health crisis.
“For months, Governor Brown and California authorities sat on their hands as this gas blowout crisis deepened and scores got sick," Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said. "Now it’s a matter of ‘too little, too late’ from the governor, and the people of Porter Ranch are desperate for federal intervention to end this catastrophe and ensure it never happens again.”
On Saturday, in Granada Hills, California, hundreds of residents of Porter Ranch will rally and testify at the second hearing on a stipulated Order for Abatement—which requires a company operating out of compliance to take specific actions or to shut down its operation to come into compliance—over the Porter Ranch Gas Leak.
Southern Caliifornia Gas Co. said in a statement that methane leakage has been slowly falling. Estimates by the California Air Resources Board showed an estimated 60-percent reduction from peak levels in late November.
The gas company is currently drilling a relief well in an effort to plug the leak, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. The effort, however, could take months.
“We’ve drilled to a depth of approximately 7,000 feet (and) we have to drill to a depth of over 8,000 feet, and remain on schedule to complete this process between late February and late March,” company spokesman Raul Gordillo said.
For more background information and personal accounts from affected local residents, watch here:
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Following months of pressure from activists and residents, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday issued a state of emergency over the Porter Ranch gas leak that has been pouring tens of thousands of kilograms of methane into the air surrounding the community since October 2015.
The order means "all necessary and viable actions" will be taken to stop the leak and ensure that the Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas), which owns the leaking natural gas injection well, is held accountable for the damage.
"It's about time," Alexandra Nagy, Southern California organizer at Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams. "It's incredible. Now residents can actually get the assistance that they need."
Brown issued the state of emergency after making a quiet visit to the area earlier this week to tour the facility and meet with the Porter Ranch neighborhood council. Wednesday's order also directs action to protect public health, according to a press release issued from the governor's office.
"It is really going to ... amplify the urgency of this issue and really expose how bad the problem is," Nagy said.
The leak, which has been ongoing since October 2015, gained limited media attention after environmental and public health advocate Erin Brockovich declared it "a catastrophe the scale of which has not been seen since the 2010 BP oil spill." Residents living in proximity to the well, which is situated in Aliso Canyon, roughly 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, reported having symptoms of methane exposure, including headaches, nausea and in some cases, bleeding eyes and gums.
Brown's hesitance to issue an emergency order in the face of a growing public health crisis raised questions over a possible conflict of interest between the governor and SoCal Gas. Brown's sister, Kathleen Brown, is a paid member of the company's board.
On Monday, a constituent affairs representative with Brown's office told Common Dreams that he was unaware of any plans to declare a state of emergency, stating, "I think maybe he wants to wait until the situation develops a little bit more ... state of emergencies are a pretty big deal."
Nagy credited the swift turnaround to pressure from the community. She stated Wednesday, "We've just been mounting pressure from all sides ... This is a hard fought win for the residents of Porter Ranch and beyond affected by this noxious blowout."
"It was interesting that he wanted to do it in the quiet and in the dark, because he doesn't want to be held accountable publicly and this is his opportunity to look like a hero and a leader on this," Nagy continued. "He's moving with it because that's where it's going."
While the order was welcome, activists have a broader objective—to shut down the Aliso Canyon facility and, ultimately, end the state's reliance on fossil fuels, Nagy said, declaring, "Addiction to natural gas is a problem."
To that end, activists in the area are organizing a hearing with city officials on Saturday to discuss an order for abatement, which requires companies acting out of compliance to shut down their operations. The order, issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, "has the potential to shut down the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility temporarily or permanently," organizers explained in a Facebook post. "We need to rally and testify at the hearing this Saturday to demand AQMD uses their authority to #ShutItALLDown."
Activists plan to gather at Granada Hills Charter High School on Saturday for an 8 a.m. rally ahead of the 9 a.m. hearing.
"We are on a path to transitioning to clean energy," Nagy said. "[The leak has] been a wake-up call for this community ... We're all on the front lines of climate change."
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Porter Ranch Residents Flee, Schools Close as Natural Gas Storage Facility Continues to Spew Toxic Chemicals
As the natural gas storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles continues to spew gas for nearly three months, the human face of this environmental disaster becomes even more pressing. As of Tuesday, close to 2,000 residents have been evacuated, two schools closed and the health department has linked hundreds of health complaints from nausea and vomiting to headaches and respiratory problems to two chemicals in the gas.
The health threat from this leak comes primarily from exposures to the chemicals known as odorants, tert-butyl mercaptan and tetrahydrothiophene, added to the natural gas to serve as a warning for leaks. The methane, which is the primary ingredient in the gas, is a powerful contributor to global warming and global ozone smog levels but is not toxic to the local community. The gas also contains low levels of other chemicals that can be harmful and the health department has recommended continued monitoring of the air in the Porter Ranch community to keep an eye on the levels of these contaminants.
So far, air testing in the neighborhood has not shown levels of pollutants tied to long-term health damage. But close scrutiny is needed as this drags on and it's no longer a short-term incident. The following are important questions to answer if this leak extends for the additional two to three months currently projected.
What is the true pattern of low-level Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), particularly benzene, being detected in the community samples?
Current monitoring data show mostly very low levels of benzene with some scattered spikes that don't exceed levels of concern for short-term events. However, the existing monitoring is not really set up to evaluate medium- to longer-term exposures. Continuous monitoring, rather than grab samples, that can reliably measure low levels, will be needed to paint an accurate picture of what's going on and make sure we aren't left with data gaps that limit our ability to assess health risks. This type of monitoring is also needed to better determine what levels may be due to the leak and what is coming from other sources.
Which areas are most impacted by the gas? Better data is also needed on the levels of the sulfur compounds—odorants and their breakdown products (e.g. hydrogen sulfide)—in the gas flowing out of this facility and in the ambient environment.
Current monitoring is not using sensitive enough testing techniques and this makes it difficult to understand what types of exposures are occurring. Some of the current testing is only able to detect levels of the tert-butyl mercaptan 50 times higher than the level where you expect to have health impacts from odors. We need more information that is able to narrow this gap and get us closer to understanding where the hotspots are.
What type of medical monitoring is needed to assess the health impacts during this event and after residents are able to return to their homes?
There is currently very little data on health effects of the odorant chemicals beyond the physiological response to the odor. These compounds are utilized because they provide an effective warning about even small amounts of leaked gas. People are not expected to be subjected to them for very long and we need to understand better what the impact might be when exposures occur for a longer period of time.
How can warnings be improved to better capture the most vulnerable?
There is a great deal of scientific evidence showing that children, people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and pregnant women are especially susceptible to many different types of air pollution. We need to make sure that all health-related advisories properly address these vulnerabilities and make sure these populations have the resources needed to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, the community of Porter Ranch is not alone in facing the impacts of oil and gas. On a daily basis, communities across California live with oil and gas infrastructure—from the well site to facilities which store, transmit, and distribute these resources to our homes and vehicles. The types of air pollutants and health threats can vary depending on the stage in the process and communities face different risks. This incident raises bigger questions about—and highlights huge gaps in—policies to evaluate and prevent community impacts from oil and gas in California.
- Our previous analysis found that about 5.4 million Californians live within one mile of an oil and gas well. Data to adequately characterize air emissions and levels of exposures in these communities is almost non-existent—although studies from other states show contaminants at levels that could put neighbors at risk. Communities living next door to these facilities regularly experience odors and health complaints consistent with air pollution yet, we have no monitoring data on the air they are breathing day in and day out.
- Current policies and regulations are way out of step with the science documenting air pollution threats from oil and gas sites. Strong federal and state standards are needed to limit emissions from these facilities, particularly at the well site. California air pollution control agencies need to start filling the gaps and prevent harmful air pollution from oil and gas.
- Despite numerous health and safety threats at oil and gas facilities, California lacks statewide protections to ensure that homes and schools are not in harm's way.Health-protective setback distances are needed to keep communities safe.
- California has long history of oil and gas development. What was state-of-the art when it was drilled more than 50 years ago might not meet today's standards. Plus, California is littered with old wells that have been abandoned or left idle without proper procedures to effectively seal them off. We need comprehensive policies, including reform of the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, which ensure the integrity of the infrastructure and detect leaks from the diverse sources of equipment and facilities.
- Communities across the state are now asking themselves if they too might be at risk from an incident like what is unfolding in Porter Ranch. Comprehensive response plans that engage community members are need to review the locations of oil and gas infrastructure in their backyards and identify measures to prevent and respond to failures, both big and small.
It shouldn't take a disaster to make us take a hard look at the safety of our oil and gas infrastructure. As the Porter Ranch community struggles to deal with the effects of this leak, we need to make sure they have the resources they need and California, as a whole, starts paying a lot more attention to the people whose lives are impacted daily by oil and gas facilities.
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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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"We are ALL Seneca Lake" was the message delivered this morning by prominent environmental leaders Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, David Braun, co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, and Rachel Marco-Havens, youth engagement director of Earth Guardians during a protest at Stagecoach (formerly Crestwood) gas storage complex along Route 14 in the Town of Reading.
Some of us might have struggled to capture the strawberry moon yesterday, but this astronaut had an awesome view.
Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams took a breathtaking picture of the June full moon from the International Space Station. The picture was snapped when the station was over western China.
A spectacular rise of the full moon just before sunset while flying over western China. Photo credit: Jeff Williams
This year's summer solstice was astronomically significant. It was the first time in almost 70 years when the solstice and June full moon coincided. The event hadn't occurred since 1948, the Baltimore Sun reported.
“Having a full moon land smack on the solstice is a truly rare event," Bob Berman, an astronomer for the Old Farmer's Almanac, said.
The name "strawberry moon" originated from the Algonquin tribe. They called June's full moon the strawberry moon because it marked the time of year they should gather ripening fruit, according to the Farmer's Almanac. In Europe, June's full moon is also known as the Rose or the Honey moon.
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The Caribbean Sea is whistling in an A-flat tone, roughly 30 octaves below the bottom of a piano.
University of Liverpool researchers detected the noise when they were analyzing sea level and sea floor pressure in the Caribbean Sea, an area that has been monitored for the past 60 years. But something unusual showed up on their ocean activity models: there were pressure oscillations across the Caribbean basin, according to Science Alert.
Photo credit: NASA
The models kept yielding large, inexplicable oscillations of the Earth's gravity field across the basin. “It felt like a sore thumb," Hughes added.
Hughes and his team decided to see if they could observe the phenomenon in the ocean, Gizmodo reported. They collected pressure readings and tide gauge records from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Grace satellite collected between 1958 and 2013. Soon, the researchers discovered that the Caribbean Sea acts like a giant whistle.
The strange sound, which cannot be heard by humans, is caused by the Rossby wave, which travels westward across the ocean. Scientists have observed the wave disappearing on the west side of the Caribbean basin and then reappearing 120 days later on the east side, according to Science Alert. The disappearance is known as the Rossby wormhole.
Hughes and his team's findings prove that the Rossby wave doesn't disappear, but is in fact still interacting with the seafloor during those 120 days. The waves resonate after hitting the western wall of the Caribbean basin and the frequency creates the whistle sound, Gizmodo said.
"We can compare the ocean activity in the Caribbean Sea to that of a whistle," Hughes told Science Daily. "When you blow into a whistle, the jet of air becomes unstable and excites the resonant sound wave which fits into the whistle cavity. Because the whistle is open, the sound radiates out so you can hear it.
"Similarly, an ocean current flowing through the Caribbean Sea becomes unstable and excites a resonance of a rather strange kind of ocean wave called a Rossby wave. Because the Caribbean Sea is partly open, this causes an exchange of water with the rest of the ocean which allows us to 'hear' the resonance using gravity measurements."
The noise was sped up to be audible to humans in this video:
The phenomenon has been aptly named the Rossby whistle and a paper was published about it in Geophysical Research Letters.
Scientists believe the Rossby whistle could help predict coastal flooding. The whistle can vary sea level by as much as 10 centimeters (roughly 4 inches) along the Colombian and Venezuelan coast, according to a University of Liverpool release. Even small changes can increase the flood probability.
Researchers plan to investigate the phenomenon further to understand how it affects ocean dynamics.
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