‘The BP Oil Spill on Land’: Erin Brockovich on LA’s Gas Leak
On October 23, employees at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon facility, located in the upscale L.A. exurb of Porter Ranch, discovered a leak in one of their natural gas wells. They resolved to fix it the next day.
Over three months later, the well is still spewing methane and mercaptans into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, and SoCal Gas is still at a loss over how to stop it.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed criminal charges against SoCal Gas. The charges include three counts of failing to report the release of a hazardous material and one count of discharge of air contaminants. Both are misdemeanors. If it is found guilty, the company could end up paying $25,000 a day for every day it did not report the leak and $1,000 a day for each day it has polluted the air.
Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich — yes, that Erin Brockovich — lives in Agoura Hills, just 30 minutes from Porter Ranch. She tells Rolling Stone she was out of the country when the leak started, and she came home to a stream of emails from residents worried about it. “As soon as I land, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, they start coming through. I see, Oh, Porter Ranch — that’s near my home — Oh, Porter Ranch. Oh, Porter Ranch. By the time I’ve read the 23rd email, I’m like, What the hell happened in Porter Ranch?”
Because of the movie about her $333 million lawsuit against PG&E, Brockovich is accustomed to hearing from residents of communities concerned about potential water contamination. The Porter Ranch leak was different than the disasters she usually takes on, but the scope was troublingly familiar.
Everyone — from Southern California residents to gas company executives — is still trying to figure out what went wrong at Porter Ranch. The leak, which continues unabated to this day, is one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory in the U.S., if not the world.
Estimates in late January suggest the emissions are equivalent to 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or, as the LA Times explained, “more greenhouse gas than 440,000 cars emit in a year.”