Suburbia in peril

Two years after the biggest gas leak in American history, Porter Ranch residents are questioning why the Aliso Canyon gas facility has been reopened

The first oil well in Aliso Canyon, owned by SoCal Gas, found to have a leak (Earthworks/Flickr)

Eighty-six billion cubic feet of gas at risk of escape. $1 billion in estimated costs. Over 8,000 families relocated. At least $21 million worth of natural gas wasted.

These are just a few of the facts associated with the gas leak in Aliso Canyon (located just north of Porter Ranch). The leak was discovered on October 23, 2015 by SoCal Gas, the company in charge of the gas facility.

The facility is now back open and has no limitations, yet people still complain that they have adverse health effects and can smell the gas, according to Gorman-Chang. She claims that 23.6 billion cubic feet of gas was pumped back in to the facility, yet none of it was used during the summer heat wave. Activists have been attempting to get a court order to permanently shut down the facility, but to no avail.

The city of Porter Ranch. The Aliso Canyon gas facility is located just north of Sesnon Blvd. and extends all the way towards Santa Clarita.

What people are mainly angry about is the way that SoCal Gas has handled the situation. Susan Gorman-Chang, the current vice-president of the Porter Ranch neighborhood council, said that nobody on her street was aware of the leak on Halloween, a full week after the incident, and none of the schools were notified of the possible dangers until December.

According to SoCal Gas, the long-term effects of being exposed to large-scale amounts of methane are unknown. But other chemicals were released that are known to have adverse health effects. One of these, benzene, a chemical commonly found in natural gas wells, is a a Group 1 carcinogen known to cause anemia and other blood disorders. SoCal Gas did not accurately report the levels of benzene present during the leak, according to CBS.

The facility is now back open and has no limitations, yet people still complain that they have adverse health effects and can smell the gas, according to Gorman-Chang. She claims that 23.6 billion cubic feet of gas was pumped back in to the facility, yet none of it was used during the summer heat wave. Activists have been attempting to get a court order to permanently shut down the facility, but to no avail.

So the company at fault for the leak did not admit to any long-term health risks, but what do the residents of Porter Ranch, the people who have been living with these chemicals on a daily basis for two years, have to say? To answer this, a callout was created for Porter Ranch residents on Facebook.

My husband, who had been very healthy, had to get many tests done and was diagnosed with high blood pressure, pre-diabetes.

Some people, such as Gregg Garfinkel, 52, could only complain about the way that SoCal Gas has handled the situation, finding that officials were untrustworthy and seemed to deny any wrongdoing. Beside that, he did not report any health problems for himself or his family. His main concern was how the leak would affect the housing market, a question the LA Times also pondered.

But this type of response was few and far between. Most people answered the way Patty Glueck did. She found that the chemicals caused her and her family’s health to deteriorate.

“The blowout has affected our health,” she said. “I now have chronic bronchitis. My daughter had to drop a class last fall because it was making her asthma acting up. My husband, who had been very healthy, had to get many tests done and was diagnosed with high blood pressure, pre-diabetes.”

Glueck decided that she could not handle living like this and, after weeks of protesting with many others, moved to a temporary home that SoCal Gas would be responsible for.

Stories like this were commonplace immediately after the leak started. Yet nobody was doing anything about it. According to Gorman-Chang, the neighborhood council at the time decided that they would have no say on the matter. Residents were outraged at this, electing new council members in June of 2016.

This is when Gorman-Chang became vice-president, though admittedly, she knew very little about the council before the leak. She was not alone, and this is still the case, she said. She estimated that only 20 people attend the monthly meeting. Despite the small amount of support, the council has been able to organize protests and bring in private contractors to check the data that SoCal Gas was using to descale the effects of the leak.

I have headaches all the time. Always feeling tired. And I’ve had a cough that just doesn’t go away. Now I’m told I have asthma.

But some people decided that they did not want to deal with protesting or waiting for a fix. Serli Tasci, 40, and Christine Soderlund, 49, were two of thousands that moved out of their homes into temporary housing. These homes and hotels were all paid for by SoCal Gas, as well as stipends given to each family a day. The total cost for this program amounted to nearly $2 million per day.

“It has affected us pretty bad,” Tasci said. “Both my kids have bloody noses. They always have some sort of a cough. Very dry nose. My younger son’s skin breaks out. I have headaches all the time. Always feeling tired. And I’ve had a cough that just doesn’t go away. Now I’m told I have asthma.”

Of all the people to respond to this callout, none could give an answer as to what SoCal Gas has done to fix the problem.

Despite the ongoing legal battle, Gorman-Chang is trying to stay positive about the situation, saying “Don’t give up because you don’t get what you want tomorrow.”

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