Reporter’s Notebook:

Regulators Ignore Demands of the People of Porter Ranch and Those Fighting to Stop Environmental Catastrophe

February 1, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


This disaster has the fingerprints of the entire system all over it. It shows again that this system is incapable of protecting human health and life and the environment, because it’s not set up and structured to do this but instead is based on private interests and control, profitability, and competition.

(Orpheus Reed, “Porter Ranch Gas Disaster and the Poisonous Lies of the System,” January 18, 2016, at

Public hearing about Porter Ranch gas leak
More than 150 people, nearly all from Porter Ranch, came to hear and protest what they already knew was going to be a kick in the teeth to their number one demand: that the entire Aliso Canyon storage fields be shut down. AP photo

The last of three public hearings held by the Southern California Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) took place Saturday, January 23, at a Hilton Hotel 10 miles from Porter Ranch—the well-to-do community located just below Southern California Gas Company’s (SOCAL) Aliso Canyon gas storage fields in LA’s San Fernando Valley. For the past several months, massive amounts of natural gas have been spewing into the air from a broken gas well.

More than 150 people, nearly all from Porter Ranch, came to hear and protest what they already knew was going to be a kick in the teeth to their number one demand: that the entire Aliso Canyon storage fields be shut down.

Before the meeting, dozens of supporters had stood outside the Hilton with signs, shouting “Shut. It. Down. Now.” But the “abatement order” that had already been agreed to by SOCAL, and was going to be approved at the end of the “hearing,” only calls for shutting down the one well that is leaking, leaving the other 115 wells in the Aliso Canyon field operating. Many of these wells are over 60 years old, corroded, and used in a very risky way by SOCAL gas. When the rest of the wells were inspected after the leak was made public, 15 other wells were found leaking smaller amounts of methane.

The mood at the meeting was serious, tense, and emotional. Many were holding identical signs to Shut It Down Now, repeatedly raising them when people expressed their anger. One woman came with her son and held her hand-made sign everywhere she went for the next six hours: “Stop the Lies, Lies, Lies.” The stories people told us, and the panel of five administrative law judges, were very disturbing.

While the official story is that the leak, the largest natural gas leak in history, began on October 23, people told us of symptoms they had had for months earlier, but had no idea where they were coming from, including headaches, nose bleeds, shortage of breath, vomiting, and fatigue. A woman who has lived there for 49 years said: “We actually had symptoms first; we didn’t know what was causing them; we didn’t make the connection because we hadn’t heard anything about it. I was really concerned with my dad, because of what was going on with his chest, and his heart. I had unusual nose bleeds; and we were all fatigued. There were so many things, but we couldn’t connect the dots until after we found out there was a problem.”

A man from South Asia told the panel, as though describing the cautionary “canary in the coal mine,” about the 40 to 50 hummingbirds in his back yard and finding two or three a day dead on the ground until there were no more: “We have not lived in the house in six weeks. All I’m asking is that something has to be done, that we do not go through this again. We are literally being gassed to death. We would like to breathe air that we cannot smell. That is not too much to ask, is it?”

SOCAL has been assuring everyone that there won’t be any long-term effects from inhaling methane. But there is cancer-causing benzene being released as well. And the long-term effects are not known for mercaptan, the chemical added to make the methane easier to detect, which is what is making people so ill. More than 3,000 families have relocated from Porter Ranch to hotels or temporary houses, and another 2,000 are on the waiting list, more than 60 percent of the entire community.

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A 12-year-old boy who is still going to school in Porter Ranch told us: “At times it stinks, like rotten eggs. I get headaches, and I start to sneeze a lot. And when I go to school I can still smell it. And during P.E. I can’t really do as well as usual. My friends at school talk about it; we say they should shut it down. But I heard that the nozzle; they didn’t fix it back then, so they can’t shut it down.”

We were interrupted by his mother, who had come out soon after people began telling their stories to the panel: “I had to come outside, I was getting very emotional. It’s such a scary thing for a mom; and a human. And I’m just shocked that more people aren’t aware of it; it’s going on all over the country and the world, and that’s just terrifying.” She described someone who was found passed out in their garage, lying on the floor. After she relocated to Santa Clarita, the family started feeling better right away. But she still, nervously, drops her son back at his school in Porter Ranch every morning; she has already paid for the school and can’t get her money back.

Copies of the SCAQMD abatement order were there for people at the hearing. Two things stand out about the order: First, that SCAQMD’s answer to the demand of the people of Porter Ranch to shut down the gas field was No! The other is that what they are requiring of SoCal Gas is basically that they monitor the emissions around the facility, check the wells to be sure they aren’t leaking, and look into the long-range impact of breathing the gas! Why is it that only after 60 years in which the wells have been in operation, and decades since they have been breaking down, does it takes a monumental disaster to decide they need to be monitored?

When the panel voted to approve their abatement order, the audience booed the decision. “Shame on you,” one man shouted. A woman yelled, “Move them into the area so they can breathe the air.” And another ran from the room in tears: “I don’t want to get cancer and die.”

* * *

The Aliso Canyon storage fields are an emergency threat to humans. But that’s not how the capitalist system calculates needs and priorities. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage facility in the western U.S. Oil and gas, fossil fuels that are a huge factor in the environmental emergency and the climate change crisis, are tremendously profitable. Control of the world’s supply and distribution of oil and gas are critical to gaining advantage in the rivalries between global powers, and what the U.S. rulers of this system call “energy self-sufficiency” gives them great advantage. And so the damning testimony at the meeting from people whose lives have been made hellish by the leaks, and who live in the shadow of even greater disaster, was overruled by the needs of the system.

The whole day people’s sense of betrayal was palpable; a feeling of being lied to, and being powerless in the face of much larger forces. We found a lot of openness to a different perspective. More than half left with a copy of the Revolution article on Porter Ranch; and those we spoke with were introduced to and many got copies of Revolution #420, announcing Bob Avakian’s new presentation. A few we spoke with were already familiar with the newspaper, and with BA.

But this required challenging people to step back from a narrow framework, and an individualistic perspective; wanting to believe this was an aberration, a local problem, with a solution within their reach as individuals, or a single community; as opposed to a crisis affecting the planet, and humanity, connected with the other horrors this system is bringing down on the majority of humanity, which will take an actual communist revolution to tackle. A few of those we spoke with, who had already been putting this disaster in the context of the global environmental emergency, and a sense that capitalism was at the root of it, were surprised that there was such a movement, with a leader with such a developed analysis of the problem and the solution, and were open to learning more about it.

Seven Arrested at Seneca Lake in Solidarity with the People of Porter Ranch

Seneca Lake solidarity with people of Porter Ranch
Protesters from the “We Are Seneca Lake” movement in upstate New York, in solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch 2,600 miles away. Photo:

Seven protesters, part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement in upstate New York, were arrested in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience on January 18, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday, in solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch, 2,600 miles away. The protesters, coming from six different counties, held a banner across the roadway leading to old salt mines on the banks of Seneca Lake—one of New York’s five Finger Lakes—“SENECA LAKE TO PORTER RANCH—GAS STORAGE COURTS DISASTER—#SHUT IT ALL DOWN.”

Two years ago the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved an expansion project by the Crestwood Midstream company to turn the salt mines next to Seneca Lake into the largest storage facility for methane and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) in the Northeast, and one of the largest in the country. The We Are Seneca Lake movement was formed at that time to prevent this expansion and the potential for catastrophic accidents such as the one now taking place in Porter Ranch, as well as the risk of salinization of Seneca Lake, which is the source of water for 100,000 people.

The founder of We Are Seneca Lake—Sandra Steingraber, a Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College—delivered a message to the people of Porter Ranch during the protest—“Seneca Lake Stands with Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down!”—which said in part:

In the last 16 months, there have been 460 arrests on this strip of pavement for civil disobedience in objection to the expansion of underground gas storage in old salt mines on the banks of our beautiful lake. Some of us have gone to jail.

Today, we affirm our network of mutuality with people who live three time zones away in a California community called Porter Ranch....

We know it’s the biggest gas leak in U.S. history. We know it’s an official state of emergency. We know there is no end in sight and there is no clear way to fix it....

Seneca Lake and Porter Ranch are tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow. We look at the myriad injustices that you are now compelled to endure, and we see our own future.... We Are Seneca Lake and we join you in saying, “Shut it all down!”

(Read the entire statement here.)


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