The California State Patrol has arrested two people in connection with the massive methane leak in Southern California’s Aliso Canyon, but many residents who had to leave their homes near the leaking underground gas storage site think the wrong people are in custody. Instead of busting company executives and engineers who are responsible for the massive methane gas leak, the CSP arrested two protesters who draped banners on the headquarters of the California Public Utilities Commission. The protesters draped banners to highlight the lax regulatory environment that enabled the spill — similar to the political culture that enabled the water poisoning in Flint. But unbelievably, the activists are now the ones going to jail.
By some estimates, the failed well at the SoCalGas Aliso Canyon storage facility has leaked as much as 96,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, the equivalent of an additional 505,000 cars on the road for a year. The methane gas leak has also forced more than 2000 residents of the nearby Porter Ranch neighborhood to have to relocate, due to health concerns. The leak was discovered on October 23, 2014 and SoCal Gas is just now starting to seal the failed well.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat much more efficiently than carbon dioxide. The Aliso Canyon leak has been described as the worst fossil fuel disaster since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Until it is stopped, the gas leaking from the facility is responsible for about 25 percent of California’s daily greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is responsible for about 25 percent of the global warming the world is experiencing, according to IPCC data.
The protest at the California PUC headquarters was organized by Diablo Rising Tide, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Rising Tide North America.
“While plugging the leak at Aliso Canyon has been a good step, today we are demanding that the PUC shut down all gas storage facilities; until they do, we are occupying the PUC,” said Christy Tennery-Spalding, a spokeswoman for the group. The PUC is one of two agencies responsible for oversight of underground natural gas storage facilities. The leaking well had not been inspected since 1976. The CEO of SoCalGas reported to the LA Weekly that a safety valve on the well had been removed in 1979.
The protest came as Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited the facility, and the gas leak highlights the vulnerability of similar storage facilites around the country, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“It is unconscionable that these regulators are putting people at risk while giving companies a pass. The last time Aliso Canyon was inspected by the PUC was the last time Jerry Brown was governor,“ said Kelsey Baker, one of the activists at the PUC headquarters.
Nationwide, there are approximately 400 underground methane storage areas that are subject to little or no federal regulation. These facilities have mostly flown under the radar. But there are some quick ways to start addressing this, along with the everyday methane emissions that add up to over 7 million metric to the atmosphere each year. The EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation could both step up inspections, and states could boost oversight of well permitting, construction, operation, maintenance and closure.