Action 145. What can you and I do about the Porter Ranch disaster?

If I had more of a sense of humor about climate change, I might find the Porter Ranch/Aliso Canyon natural gas leak almost funny, in a kind of take-your-Paris-accord-and-shove-it kind of symbology from a vengeful god. As it is, I’m mainly just really pissed off.

If you haven’t yet heard about Porter Ranch, this is the massive gas leak that started in late October 2015 that is one of the largest such leaks from an underground natural gas facility in US History. Methane and odorizing chemicals have been pouring from the leaking shaft, sickening thousands of residents, causing local community upheaval, and spewing persistent and powerful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the LA Times,

In three months, one failed well at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field has spewed more greenhouse gases than any other facility in California. At its height, the leak more than doubled the methane emissions of the entire Los Angeles Basin and surpassed what is released by all industrial activity in the state….Long after the leak stops and the foul odors vanish, the pulse of methane will remain in the atmosphere and its damage to the climate will go on.

You can learn much more over at the LA Times which has a whole section devoted to covering the many impacts of this catastrophic leak. Southern California Gas, who owns the facility, has said it will be at least the end of February before they manage to stop the leak.

For good measure, here’s an eye-popping graphic on an emissions statistic, courtesy of the LA Times:

la-me-g-porter-ranch-greenhouse3

California has 14 underground gas facilities, and both state and federal oversight is lacking regarding the safety technology, monitoring requirements, and other policies that would help keep these facilities safer from leaks. The reality is that many companies that are aware of weaknesses in their safety regulations or infrastructure will wait until regulatory agencies make them deal with it. They, like everyone else, weigh the risks and benefits of saving money and making profits, and the agencies that oversee them so far have certainly not been asking enough of them.

It is incredible how many times we have faced environmental disasters in our recent history just like this- Deepwater Horizon, Flint’s water supply debacle, the Mount Polley Tailings Dam breach are just a few that come to mind- which were probably preventable, and certainly many of the worst impacts would have been avoidable, if proper safety, monitoring and oversight had been in place. Unfortunately for Southern California Gas, the safety checks they could have put in place that would have done a lot to prevent this disaster would have been a LOT cheaper than the regulatory backlash and legal proceedings they will be facing for years to come.

So rather than sit here fuming (pun intended), what’s a non-Californian to do about a serious environmental and public health catastrophe that feels very out of reach? There are at least some things within my grasp that I can do about the immediate issue.

I can and have and will continue to call the White House repeatedly and asking why the federal government is not putting every single piece of expertise, technology and form of pressure to bear on this catastrophe.

I have also signed- you can too right at this link: the CREDO petition to President Obama essentially saying the same thing.

And, very importantly, we can start mobilizing to make sure that more gas leaks like Porter Ranch are not in our future. California legislators are rushing to propose several new laws that would increase regulations for safety, technology and monitoring to prevent future disasters like this one. Federal agencies and congress are also starting to mobilize with new plans and proposals for increasing the consistency and stringency of these regulations.

With about half a million producing natural gas wells in the US, and more than 300 underground gas storage sites, with many heavily concentrated in the midwest, you have a very good chance as a resident of any state to live in the vicinity of natural gas production, and to have a voice and a stake in the proper regulation of this industry. I will be calling my representatives to support stronger regulation that protects all of us and our climate from the type of devastation we have seen from the Porter Ranch leak. We absolutely cannot afford more of these types of disasters if we are to make progress in controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

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