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Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council Fulfills Its Mission to Increase Civic Engagement

The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council Gas Leak Community Meeting was standing room only for 1,000 people on December 2 at In Christ Community Church and latecomers had to park down Rinaldi and savor the gas leak smell as they trudged into the meeting.

The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council went to great efforts to collect people’s questions in advance of the meeting and provide them to most of the speakers ahead of time so that they could come prepared with answers. Each speaker made a statement and while more agencies were present, much of the information was the same as that shared the day before at the City Council hearing on the same topic. We have provided a full report on that meeting and a link to the video here: http://prnc.org/socalgas-appears-los-angeles-city-council

Dr. Steve Bohlen, head of California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) which has jurisdiction over mining operations mentioned in his remarks that people have asked him why haven’t we brought out Red Adair, the famous well fighter from the North Sea and Kuwait? He revealed that in fact we have. Members from Red Adair’s company, now working as Boots and Coots International Well Control are on the scene assisting SoCalGas. In their remarks at City Hall SoCalGas did not confirm who was assisting them as contracts were still being negotiated.

The Air Resources Board announced that they are working to measure greenhouse gases, having routed a satellite to cover Aliso Canyon. They have identified an enormous methane plume moving across the LA basin. Calculating its size, however, takes several months. They are also taking measurement using mobile monitors on cars and by flying downwind. The results of their two flights can be found http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/reports/aliso_canyon_natural_gas_leak.pdf. Future reports can be found by searching on their site: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/research.htm

The AQMD reported that they have received over 1,000 complaints including many on the evening of the meeting. Complaints can continue to be submitted to them by phone: 800-CUT-SMOG or online at http://www.aqmd.gov/contact/complaints. It should be noted that the AQMD is the agency that has the authority to fine SoCalGas.

The audience was very interested in the remarks made by LAUSD Local District Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. She reported that both the Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary would have nurses on hand full time, air filters would be install by Monday, December 7, and additional staff will be on hand to supervise children whose parents don’t want them playing outside.

She elaborated that the one thing that was clear was that parents are not in agreement on how they want to handle their children at school vis-à-vis the gas leak. Some want them inside, some are ok with their children playing outside, and some don’t want them at the school at all. Therefore LAUSD is working to accommodate these different requests, including relocating students temporarily. While schools are trying to use this situation as a teaching moment incorporating it into science lessons, Ekchian expressed grave concern that throughout this crisis what the students need is stability.

In spite of her comments about contingency planning and the steps they were taking, during public comment parent Michelle Theriault noted her surprise that LAUSD had air filters that could filter our carcinogens.

After the representatives made their statements, Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council President Paula Cracium proceeded to ask questions of the panelists that had been submitted ahead of time. In answer to those questions it was reported that SoCalGas is doing pilot testing on using Odex to mitigate odor from the gas leak. Odex would be sprayed as close as possible to the leak site. It will only be used if the community wants it as it is entirely for the benefit of the community. The Community Advisory Committee, recommended by Councilmember Mitchell Englander would have direct input into this decision. AQMD and County Health are currently evaluating the results of the pilot tests.

One of the questions was whether SoCalGas would permanently relocate residents and buy their houses. This brought up a cheer from the audience. However, Gillian Wright, Vice President of Customer Service at SoCalGas emphasized that this is a temporary problem. “We want Porter Ranch to thrive.”

The questioning continued asking how SoCalGas can speed up the process of testing well integrity which is currently planned to require six years. DOGGR reported that the wells are being looked at now, but they did not provide any specifics about how soon the wells could be tested. They did however promise to conduct a complete root cause analysis after the leak is stopped, including looking at all the wells of the same age at Aliso Canyon.

There was no answer to the question about what if the relief well does not work. And to the question about shutting down the facility, Jimmie Cho, Senior Vice President, Gas Operations and System Integrity and Incident Commander firmly stated that this facility is critical to their reliable delivery of gas. This type of storage is possible only in a few parts of the state.

The Aliso Canyon Storage Facility holds 86 billion cubic feet of gas. At the time the leak began it was 90% full. Due to the leak and the usage of gas, it is now 80% full. To provide a visual image of how much gas 86 billion cubic feet is, it would require 850,000 trucks to transport, which of course it why it is brought in by pipeline. SoCalGas reports that there are no other leaks. Responding to a question about earthquake disaster Cho revealed that they could shut down the entire facility using the Emergency Shut Down System. This revelation caused many to wonder why they don’t use it now. We followed up with Cho. He informs us that activation of the Emergency Shut Down System automatically prevents the injection and withdrawal of gas at the facility. Essentially all above ground flow of gas is shut in and isolated. Since the leak is below ground, below the shut off valves, it would have no impact on stopping the leak.  This is why they have not used it.

The public comment period was designed to allow 30 attendees to make comments for two minutes each. Unfortunately, many of the speakers and attendees were unfamiliar with government meetings where speakers are often granted only one minute to speak and their comments don’t result in immediate dialogue or answers. As people made comments, the crowd became frustrated with the format, and disruptive booing broke out. For safety reasons PRNC President Cracium indicated that she would have to shut the meeting down if attendees could not be respectful.

In response to the crowd’s outcries about long term health impacts, Cracium asked Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director, Toxics Epidemiology at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to respond. He outlined a previous incident several years ago that lasted for six months with 200 times the concentration of mercaptans. He indicated that workers and animals did not display any long term effects, although the incident was only a few years ago. He was not worried about the impacts of mercaptans. What he is worried about are the impacts of benzene, a known carcinogen.

Most of the public comment speakers were respectful and thanked the PRNC and Councilmember Englander for advocating on their behalf.

After four hours the meeting concluded and because many people still had questions for LAUSD, they were allowed to stay in the church sanctuary with LAUSD to continue their discussion while the rest of the agencies staffed tables outside and answered individual questions.

Panelists Included (not a complete list):

Jimmie Cho, Senior Vice President, Gas Operations and System Integrity and Incident Commander, SoCalGas

Gillian Wright, Vice President of Customer Service, SoCalGas

Dr. Steve Bohlen, head of California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR)

Jorn Herner, Chief, California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. JHerner [at] arb.ca.gov, 916-324-9299

Teresa Schilling, Assistant Director, State of California, Department of Conservation, Public Affairs Office. Teresa.Schilling [at] conservation.ca.gov, 916-323-1886.

Hans Christian Ipsen, Emergency Management Coordinator, City of Los Angeles, Chris.Ipsen [at] lacity.org, 213-484-4892.

Vivan Ekchian, Local District Superintendent, LAUSD, 818-654-3611

Nicole Vartanian, Staff Assistant to Congressman Steve Knight. Nicole.Vartanian [at] mail.house.gov, 661-255-5630

Henry Stern, Representing the office Senator Fran Pavley. Concerns should be directed to the district office of Senator Fran Pavley 818-876-3352. Senator.Pavley [at] sen.ca.gov

Stephanie English, Community Services Liaison, County of Los Angeles Fire. Stephanie.English [at] fire.lacounty.gov, 661-250-2710

Jerrod DeGonia, San Fernando Valley Field Deputy, County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, JDeGonia [at] lacbos.org, 818 993-5170

Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director, Toxics Epidemiology at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. crangan [at] ph.lacounty.gov, (213) 738-3220

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The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council is an organization that is officially certified by the City of Los Angeles to increase our influence with City lawmakers and departments to improve our community.

The PRNC came about as a result of Los Angeles City Charter Reform and interested stakeholders in our community. The Board is elected by stakeholders and holds monthly meetings, usually on the first Wednesday of the month. The agenda is emailed to those who subscribe (see the green box in the upper corner), on our website here and posted at 11280 Corbin Avenue, Northridge, CA 91326 on a bulletin board facing Corbin street.

The Board is comprised of volunteers who want to help you make Porter Ranch a better place to live, work and grow. We can't do it for you, but we can do it with you.

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