Jan 4, 2016
On October 23, workers noticed a natural gas leak from a 40-year-old oil well near Porter Ranch, an affluent community of 30,000 people about 25 miles north-west of Los Angeles. In the two months since the leak was discovered, more than 100,000 pounds of methane gas has been blowing into the air each hour, amounting to one-fourth of all the methane emissions in the entire state of California!
Residents have reported nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and vomiting, and children have been especially vulnerable. The L.A. County health agency found that highly harmful, cancer-causing chemicals, such as benzene, have been measured in the leak. And methane being a highly flammable gas, there is the constant threat of an explosion or a huge fire – so much so that the FAA has issued a no-fly zone over the Porter Ranch area until March 8. That deadline may well be extended – the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) says it will take four months to seal the well and block the leak!
It’s a disaster of enormous proportions – and a disaster long in the making. Residents have been trying for years to stop oil and gas companies from drilling near Porter Ranch. But the companies have continued to drill, adding more and more wells.
And government officials continued to let them do it, for decades, while allowing homes to be built almost right on top of the wells.
In fact, the only measures taken to help residents so far – the relocation of hundreds of residents to hotels at SoCalGas’s expense; the relocation of two nearby elementary schools by the L.A. school district – have been the result of constant protests by the residents themselves. It was also the residents who released an infrared video of the huge amounts of methane blowing out of the well and hovering over the ground.
Under pressure of the protests, the City of L.A. in December announced a lawsuit against SoCalGas. But events prove that any solution for this problem will come from the residents’ own ability to stay organized and fight to impose their interests on SoCalGas and the other companies drilling in Porter Ranch, not from government officials.