AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

A gas gathering plant sits on the hilltop at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility near the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of the calamitous methane gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch. The leak, identified on Oct. 23, 2015, released nearly 100,000 tonnes of natural gas and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, forcing thousands of residents out of their homes before it was capped four months later. The long-term health impact is still being studied and determined.

What has changed in five years? The Southern California Gas Company, which owns the facility, paid out a $120 million settlement in 2019 to resolve the governmental claims against it. It included $25 million for the health study into the long-term impact on the public and the environment. The company still faces almost 400 lawsuits on behalf of 48,000 people.

But for residents like Craig Galanti and Andrew Krowne, little has happened to help those who have suffered, since the facility remains operational.

“That’s something that demands answers,” said Krowne, who is a member of the Porter Ranch citizen’s Community Advisory Group that continues to pursue further redress for the residents. “We’re five years down the road, and I would argue nothing has happened….There are now more facts that we know that indicate this facility is incredibly dangerous.”

Adds Galanti, another committee member, “I would say there are more questions now than there were in the beginning, none of which have really been addressed.”

Alexandra Nagy, California director for the national grassroots advocate organization Food & Water Watch and Food and Water Action, also said data shows “an uptick” in the withdrawal of gas from the facility, and that the governor — who, during his campaign, said the facility should be closed — must stay “fully committed”  to shutting down Aliso Canyon.

“It’s not fully back to where it was before the leak occurred, but it’s getting very close,” Nagy said citing analysis of publicly available data showing SoCalGas had withdrawn 20 billion cubic feet of gas from the storage field this winter, primarily to heat homes in the Los Angeles area. That was an increase up from 14 billion cubic feet in the winter of 2018-19.

“I’ve been tracking this the last five years,” Nagy said. “[Before] there were very strict restrictions in place right after the blowout: you couldn’t inject gas in there, and there was a 15 billion cubic feet reserve of gas in there for emergencies if needed. But, basically, the state reworked the rules of managing the gas system to ensure tighter coordination, better supply management, so they wouldn’t need to use Aliso Canyon.

“For Gov. Jerry Brown’s last two years in office, which were the first two years after the blowout, we saw very minimal use of Aliso Canyon. After Newsom was elected, we saw SoCalGas start to basically continue to lobby to weaken those regulations and they succeeded in justifying looser regulations. Compared to Brown, in Newsom’s first two years, that’s a 3,000 percent difference [in gas withdrawals],” Nagy said.

There were  acknowledgments to the anniversary and anti-Aliso rallies this week, from social media Twitterstorms to a rally at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s home in Fair Oaks, CA, on Tuesday, Oct. 20, demanding the facility be shut down. A car caravan targeting the Southern California Gas Company was scheduled for today, Oct. 22.

But, Nagy said, getting a permanent closure of the facility will be a “long-haul fight” between advocates and a public utility.

“I’m still very optimistic — this stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” the director said.

“We’re talking about shutting down a massive piece of infrastructure. And that would be the first of its kind in California, maybe even nationally; of closing down fossil fuels, and what would it mean to phase them out, to remove these types of infrastructures. And we’re going up against the largest gas utility in the country. And they have tremendous power and influence.”

The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol is continuing to follow this story.