Porter Ranch area residents traveled to San Dimas on Wednesday, Jan. 20, for a South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) hearing on a proposed enforcement order aimed at minimizing the impact of a three-month-old leak that has forced hundreds to leave their homes and schools in the community.
But the board — which had previously postponed a meeting regarding the leak — delayed any actual decision, instead reacting to concerns of elected officials that the issue should be discussed at a meeting closer to Porter Ranch.
The AQMD did receive public testimony and allowed members to ask questions of its staff and Southern California Gas Co officials on Wednesday. The hearing will now continue on Saturday, Jan. 23, in Woodland Hills. The time was not announced.
“I think bringing the decision back [to the Valley] is a good thing, said Alexandra Nagy, spokeswoman for the national grassroots organization Food & Water Watch, who attended the hearing.
“[Porter Ranch] residents want to hear the decision made in front of them. It’s good to keep the process of these deliberations transparent and accessible,” Nagy said.
With protestors holding signs reading “Shut it all down,” the residents there demanded the board to order the shuttering of the entire Aliso Canyon storage facility, not just the leaking well there.
Matt Pakucko, president and co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, also attended the hearing. He noted there was some debate among the panel as to whether the board “had the authority or jurisdiction” to shut down the Aliso Canyon site.
“Regarding SoCalGas, they had outlined how they have ‘shut in’ the facility — which they have done for testing purposes 15 days in a row, ceasing injections and pumping out gas. So it’s not true the facility cannot be shut down,” Pakucko said.
The enforcement order originally included requirements for Southern California Gas Co. to capture and dispose of the leaking gas, likely by using a system of pipes to carry it away from the Aliso Canyon storage facility and burn it off.
But after two days of public testimony on the issue and concerns about the safety of such a move, SoCalGas announced Jan. 19, it was scrapping the plan.
“There are some numbers that are in the stipulation of how much gas is there and how fast [SoCalGas] can get it out of the facility in order to reduce the leak,” Pakucko said. “They were challenged by the board where the number came from, and SoCalGas said they would get back to them. They are coming back [to Saturday’s meeting] with a number.”
Some AQMD officials questioned the risk of a catastrophic explosion that might result from the incineration proposal.
“Our proposed order would have required SoCalGas to capture and dispose of a portion of leaking gas only if SoCalGas along with federal, state and local regulatory agencies deemed it safe to do so,” according to AQMD executive officer Barry Wallerstein.
“While that provision is now moot, the order still contains many important requirements to minimize leaking gas, monitor emissions and help prevent a similar incident in the future.”
According to AQMD, the proposed order would, among other issues, require SoCalGas to permanently shut down the leaking well, fund an independent health study to assess effects to residents, develop an enhanced leak-detection system for all wells at the facility, report all odor complaints made to the company since Oct. 23 and stop any further injection of natural gas into the storage facility while maximizing withdrawals.
Both Nagy and Pakucko believe a resolution to the situation is coming. What that resolution is remains unknown, however
“I feel we are making progress, and the discussions are important,” Nagy said. “We will see what the board decides, and if they don’t decide to shut it down, then we’ll continue to take other pathways so that this facility is shut down.”
“I think it is progress. They stated how they can shut the place down and that they have,” Pakucko said
Pakucko added that it was suggested to the gas company it consider “enhanced testing and inspections” of all kinds of wells — injection, storage and others listed — all their facilities, “which sounds like common sense when you’re dealing poison gas. But SoCalGas refused.”
City News Service contributed to this report.