On Friday October 23, 2015, during normal operations, SoCal Gas crews found a leak in a natural gas storage well at Aliso Canyon. Much more significant than originally thought, the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak turned out to be the largest in US history. With over 15,000 residents relocated, 2 schools closed, Holleigh Bernson park closed due to oily residue, dozens of local businesses affected, thousands of homes professionally cleaned from oily residue, and thousands of complaints of bloody noses, headaches, rashes and nausea the Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, Northridge, Granada Hills and West Hills communities were directly impacted by this disaster. Even though the facility sits in unincorporated County of Los Angeles and not under my jurisdiction, the constituents most directly affected certainly were, including myself and my family, and to this day work tirelessly to reverse the effects of this environmental disaster.
Following is a timeline of actions I have taken since October, 2015
- On November 25, 2015, the City Council unanimously passed my motion calling for the Southern California Gas Company to appear before the Los Angeles City Council to answer questions related to their handling of a gas leak. This meeting included representatives from DOGGR, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH), City and County Fire Departments and Hazmat
- After meeting onsite with SoCal Gas Company officials in November, 2015, I requested they create a local customer service center which was located in the Porter Ranch Town Center. I also demanded they create a dedicated website and establish a direct communications plan to the community
- In December, 2015, I formed the Porter Ranch Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC), which was comprised of key constituents from CD12. This body met regularly until June 2016 and served as a liaison to their respective communities.
- On Tuesday, January 15, 2016 I submitted a resolution calling for the City of Los Angeles to sponsor sweeping regulatory reforms for the oil and gas industry including those affecting public disclosure requirements and establishing a moratorium for new gas wells and gas storage wells until all existing wells are brought up to current standards
- In January 2016, I testified on behalf of the community at the South Coast AQMD hearings making recommendations for reporting and monitoring
- In January 2016, I submitted a motion asking that the Southern California Gas Company recognize and extend their relocation efforts to include the immediately adjacent communities of Granada Hills known as the 5-mile radius
- In January 2016, I hosted a Korean Language Town Hall Regarding the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak which was attended by over 200 constituents
- Toured the facility with Congressman Brad Sherman and Assemblymember Matt Debabneh
- A result of my urging, SoCal Gas agrees to recognize those affected within the 5-mile radius
- In January, 2016, I submitted a motion requesting LA Sanitation be instructed to provide Sewer Service Charge (SSC) vacancy adjustments and Solid Waste Resource Refuse Fee refund credits for the full period of displacement to customers displaced from their homes due to the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak
- In February, 2016, I brought the Valley Economic Alliance’s (TVEA) Red Team and their resources to bear in an effort to help affected businesses in our communities to due to financial hardship
- In February 2016, in partnership with Argos Scientific, I established Real-Time Fenceline Environmental Monitoring System in Porter Ranch which was installed to monitor Methane, Benzene, Toluene, and Xylene in the affected communities of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak
- On February 2, 2016, in partnership with City Attorney Mike Feuer's Office, the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, and the Korean American Bar Association, I hosted a Legal Town Hall for residents and businesses affected by the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak attended by over 1,000 constituents
- On February 12, 2016, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to approve my motion calling for the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate the unusual rate increases experienced by SoCal Gas customers this month across Los Angeles County
- In February 2016, working with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and the Southern California Gas Company, an agreement was reached to lengthen the relocation timeframe for residents returning to their homes following the capping of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak
- On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved my motion directing LA Sanitation to provide Sewer Service Charge (SSC) vacancy adjustments and Solid Waste Resource Refuse Fee refund credits for the period customers were displaced from their homes due to the Aliso Canyon Gas
- On February 18, 2016, I joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and Jim Featherstone, General Manager of the Emergency Management Department, to announce the opening of the City of Los Angeles' Local Assistance Center at Mason Park in Chatsworth
- On February 22, 2016, I testified before the State Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee in favor of Senate Bill 380 authored by Senator Fran Pavely requiring the inspection of all Aliso Canyon gas storage wells and a multi-agency sign-off as to their ability to operate safely
- In March, 2016, I worked with Time-Warner Cable to provide credits for residents who did not suspend their cable service during their relocation
- In early March, 2017, out of an abundance of caution I decided to temporarily close Holleigh Bernson Park due to the presence of oily residue in our area
- In March 2016, I submitted a resolution to support California State Assembly Bill 2756 (Thurmond and Williams) which, if passed, will enhance Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) authority to ensure that penalties levied on oil and gas companies reflect the severity of the violation
- In March, 2016, I submitted a resolution supporting US House of Representatives Bill 4429, the Natural Gas Leak Prevention Act of 2016, authored by Congressman Steve Knight, to create minimum uniform safety standards for the operation, environmental protection, and integrity management of underground natural gas storage facilities
- In March, 2016, I was proud to meet with Senator Barbara Boxer to discuss the creation of a multi-agency task force led by the United States Energy Department to investigate the cause and effects of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak
- On April 29, 2016, I submitted a resolution asking the City of Los Angeles to support California Senate Bill 887 (Pavley) which will establish new safety standards for natural gas storage wells and require the eventual phase-out of all old wells
- On Tuesday, May 17, 2016, I submitted a motion to the Los Angeles City Council asking that County Public Health conduct extensive community outreach to residents within the 5-mile radius
- On September 9, 2016,, I submitted a motion, coauthored by my colleague, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, asking that the Department of Water and Power (LADWP) report to the City Council in 30 days on the Aliso Canyon Reliability Winter Action Plan
- In January, 2017, I joined Supervisor Kathryn Barger as we submitted motions to both the County and the City to support California State Senate Bill 146 by State Senator Henry Stern. Stern’s bill extends the prohibition of gas injection into the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility until officials have identified the root cause of the leak and released the findings to the public
- In February, 2017, I submitted a motion directing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to immediately report to the City Council on its efforts to implement clean energy storage projects within the City. It is critically important that we aggressively pursue clean energy storage opportunities to reassure the thousands of residents directly affected by the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak
- In February, 2017, I spoke during the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) Public Meeting on the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
- During the week of February 10, 2017, I submitted a motion directing the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power report to the Council in 30 days on options to reduce the City’s reliance on natural gas use and storage near local communities, including the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility
- During the week of February, 17, 2017, I submitted a resolution to the Los Angeles City Council asking that the City of Los Angeles support any administrative action by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to utilize proceeds from the $8.5 million settlement agreement with Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), including the $5.65 million revenues in emission fees, for the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak to benefit the communities most affected by this calamity.
The Attorney General for the State of California announced a tentative settlement in the State's lawsuit against SoCal Gas for its role in the 2015 gas blowout at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. This incident would become the largest such blowout in U.S. history continuing for more than 4 months and causing the closure of four local parks, two schools, and the temporary relocation of nearly 20,000 individuals. People within the footprint of the leak reported adverse health effects including nausea, nosebleeds, and headaches, along with other ailments.
It is important to clarify that this tentative settlement is not final as it still requires a judge's approval and that it does not address claims of personal damages or harm to individuals affected by the leak. Those cases are proceeding separately in court. What this settlement does address are the utility's violations of State of California environmental and public nuisance laws.
Since the jurisdictional and regulatory authority for the facility lies entirely within the State and County's purview, I would like to make it clear that this was not a decision that I nor the Los Angeles City Council participated in or voted on. Since these proceedings were confidential, I learned about the terms of the settlement this week when they were made public. However, as a Councilmember representing those affected and as a resident of the area whose family and neighbors were impacted by the leak, I have a very strong interest and views regarding this issue that I'd like to share with you here.
What's in the settlement?
The settlement requires SoCal Gas to pay a total of $119.5 million dollars in penalties and programs to mitigate the impacts of the leak on the affected community as well efforts to reduce environmental hazards experienced by populations beyond the immediate area.
Most significantly, the settlement designates up to $25 million for a significant, long-term health study of communities affected by the leak. In my opinion, this is the most significant "win" of the settlement. I, along with community leaders and fellow elected representatives, have been demanding an adequately funded health study since the initial blowout. Previous legal rulings were woefully inadequate in the resources they devoted to a health study. The $25 million here is equal to the amount that the County's Department of Health has said is required to conduct the comprehensive, long-term study that our community deserves. This allows us to determine what the long-term effects of exposure to pollutants from the blow out are and hold SoCal gas accountable for any complications.
Additionally, SoCal Gas will be required to pay for continuous fence-line air quality monitoring for at least the next 8 years with that monitoring made available to the public in real-time. SoCal Gas will also be required to pay for and maintain a safety committee for the site as well as an independent safety ombudsman to review the work of the safety committee.
Another strong point of this settlement - if it is adopted - is that SoCal Gas will be prohibited by court order from passing on the costs of this settlement to its customers through rate hikes. It was an outrage when, during the leak, the stock price for SoCal Gas actually grew as it was expected to cause a rate increase. This ensures that the utility and the regulators that set rates will not be able to use this incident as a reason to increase costs on consumers.
The remaining balance of the funds outlined in the settlement go to a multitude of issues not directly related to the leak that I believe is more a reflection of the State's priorities and concerns than the needs of the communities directly affected by the leak. Some of these are admirable such as requiring SoCal Gas to pay for the State, City, and County's legal and investigative costs. There are also provisions for the extraction of methane from the atmosphere to make up for the amount added during the gas leak as well as funding for environmental clean ups at other locations and air filtration systems for schools in areas with poor air quality.
You can read the full terms of this tentative settlement here.
What's next for the settlement?
The announcement of the terms of the settlement this week began a 35 day public comment period where any individual is allowed to give comment on the tentative agreement. If you have any views regarding this issue, I highly encourage you to leave a comment on the California Air Resources Board website. It is somewhat difficult to find the exact commenting location so I've provided it here: simply follow this link, then fill out the requested information and leave your message and any attachments you may wish to add.
After the public comment period closes, there will be an additional 25 day review period where comments will be taken into consideration before the judge makes a final decision regarding approval or rejection of the terms of the settlement.
What's next for our community?
The point that I want to emphasize the most and what I told reporters during the press conference announcing this settlement is that this story is far from over. The families that had to leave their homes for several months, the individuals who experienced adverse health effects, the businesses that were forced to close their doors for lack of customers, and the employees who couldn't go to work, have all yet to receive full and just compensation for the disruption to their lives.
Those claims are currently being litigated in court so in many ways the most important legal decisions have yet to be determined. And while there are tangible wins from this tentative settlement -- particularly the fully funded health study, safety requirements, and ongoing fence-line air quality monitoring -- my main policy objective of permanently closing the Aliso Canyon facility has yet to be realized.
The governor has stated that it is the policy of the State of California to close the facility within ten years. That policy dates to a letter the governor sent to the California Energy Commission in July of last year so the clock is ticking.
While the City of L.A. has limited jurisdictional authority over Aliso Canyon, I as the elected representative of this region will continue demanding accountability and adherence to the most stringent safety requirements from the utility and push for the complete and permanent shut down of the facility by the state's deadline, if not sooner.
You can watch the full press conference of the announcement with Attorney General Becerra, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, here.
My remarks are shown below.