It’s the one-year anniversary of the Porter Ranch natural gas leak, the largest such leak in American history. Although the leak was capped in February, there’s no reason to celebrate just yet.
Residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood are still in the dark regarding the potential long-term health effects facing them, and have yet to receive any compensation for the interruption to their lives caused by how the Southern California Gas Company handled the situation.
The gas leak, which began on Oct. 23 and lasted more than 100 days, released over 100,000 tons of methane gas into the atmosphere between October 2015 and February 2016. During that time 8,000 people who lived in the vicinity of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility were forced out of their homes because of the noxious smell and health concerns.
Where Are We After a Year?
When the gas leak was in the national spotlight, SoCalGas paid for relocating Porter Ranch residents and many other costs associated with capping the well. However, now that Porter Ranch has been out of the national news for months, SoCalGas is trying to deny restitution to affected citizens in the criminal case against it, according to local news reports.
In California, the victim of a crime is entitled to restitution for what happened to them, but this right has been ignored by the plea deal as it currently stands. The court has yet to rule on the matter, and SoCalGas and the Los Angeles District Attorney have yet to comment on it.
SoCalGas is facing criminal charges for failing to immediately report the gas leak when it happened. The gas company pleaded no contest to the charges in September, and agreed to a plea deal with the LADA.
As it stands now, the settlement is worth $4 million, but only some of that is allocated for fines and penalties, and none for restitution. Most of the money will be used to install a state-of-the-art methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon facility, and for paying for staff to monitor it 24 hours a day. SoCalGas must also create new protocols for what to do if something like this happens again.
This is not the first time that SoCalGas has tried to avoid taking full responsibility for what happened as a result of the gas leak. People are still reporting health problems, including nausea, stomachaches, nosebleeds and respiratory irritation, but SoCalGas will apparently not fund a long-term health study.
Despite several health agencies agreeing that a comprehensive study is necessary, according to LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, SoCalGas has yet to conduct one. The gas company has blamed the Southern Coast Air Quality Management District for not providing them with a plan to fund, which they said they are willing to do up to $400,000.
While county officials and SoCalGas quibble over who is responsible for drawing up the plans and funding the study, some people are still complaining of the same symptoms as when the well was uncapped. Yet, a study does not seem imminent, and the only concern for the future seems to be preventing something like this from happening again as opposed to helping those who it already happened to.
What’s Being Done to Prevent A Gas Leak Like This in the Future?
Aside from the new monitoring system, SoCalGas would have to install if the plea bargain is upheld, the Porter Ranch gas leak will have major effects over how natural gas is stored around the country.
A report released on Oct. 20 by a federal task force formed to conduct an assessment of the 400 underground natural gas storage facilities in the U.S., made 44 recommendations to improve its storage.
Currently, the storage of natural gas underground is within the jurisdiction of state and local governments, but this will change by the end of this year.
Marie-Therese Dominguez, one of the leaders of the task force, and administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said that her agency expects to announce interim regulations for natural gas storage by year’s end, according to the Associated Press.
Once these new regulations are solidified, each state will have to abide by the same strict regulatory standards. This uniform guide to natural gas storage should help prevent people’s lives from being interrupted by an environmental disaster like the Porter Ranch gas leak in the future, even if it does nothing for those already affected by such a disaster.