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Record-Breaking Settlement in Aliso Canyon Methane Leak ~ Are We Safe from ‘Routine’ Toxic Leaks?

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] $119.5 million settlement agreement announced Wednesday between prosecutors and local and state agencies over the biggest methane leak in U.S. history is now the biggest settlement in U.S. history as well, all centered on an oil field and natural gas storage facility on the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley.

The Aliso Canyon methane leak, which began in October 2015 at the facility operated by SoCal Gas, underscores the dangers of living in close proximity to oil and natural gas fields. According to a February 2018 report, these types of incidents have occurred all across Los Angeles since the city’s massive oil boom at the turn of the last century.

“Oil and gas seepages have been documented across Los Angeles City, including the Fairfax area, south La Brea, Playa del Rey, Santa Fe Springs, and Echo Park,” the report said. “In 1985, an explosion in the Fairfax area demolished a Ross department store as a result of subsurface gas accumulation. One report links the gas accumulation to a nearby oil well; however, there is still debate as to the root cause of the explosion.”

The Aliso Canyon incident forced the evacuation of some 8,000 residents of Porter Ranch, during the 4-month-long leak of methane gas from the SoCal Gas storage facility, which is literally embedded inside a mountain overlooking the neighborhoods below.

This image shows the methane — which is colorless and odorless — in black, when the leak began:

[dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]esidents at the time, began experiencing symptoms of nausea, headaches and nosebleeds when 100,000 tons of odorless gas pumped into the atmosphere in north Los Angeles. The story garnered national headlines and led to a state-ordered evacuation from the affluent Valley hamlet.

On Wednesday, SoCal Gas agreed to pay back close to $120 million dollars to the city, county, and state for their efforts in dealing with the leak. SoCal Gas had previously agreed to pay $8.5 million settlement with South Coast Air Quality Management District and a $4 million settlement with Los Angeles County for failing to properly notify authorities about the leak.

But the region’s natural gas utility has yet to come to terms with Porter Ranch residents and the surrounding communities that continue to breathe the methane-rich air. As recently as December, SoCal Gas was fined by South Coast Air Quality Management for another hour-long methane gas leak at the same facility.

An alert sent at the time to residents said that leak was caused by a “routine operation.” It is common practice in the Los Angeles Basin, the largest urban oil field in the country, to routinely puts residents in the path of dangerous toxins, according to the report released earlier this year by the county.

“All oil and gas wells use hazardous chemicals and emit toxic air emissions such as benzene, a known human carcinogen,” the report said. “A study of chemical usage data related to oil and gas activities in Southern California found substantial overlap between chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and those used in routine oil and gas activities such as well maintenance, well completion, or rework.”

Underground oil and gas of facilities exist all over the L.A. Basin. But in communities of color, like South Los Angeles, the facilities exist within 30 feet of residents. The county requires 300 feet in separation but that does not apply to to wells drilled prior to the ordinance’s adoption.

Watch L.A. Taco editor Daniel Hernandez describe the normalcy of these dangerous scenarios in South L.A., in this documentary:

“Notably, the Oil and Gas Strike Team found that six of the 15 facilities had wells or tanks less than 300 feet from the nearest residence or school,” the report said. “Two of those sites had more than 60 wells situated less than 300 feet from occupied structures.”

The report also points out that the closer you are to these site, the more danger you are in of interacting with cancer-causing carcinogens. Wednesday's settlement also includes a fund for environmental improvement projects.

SoCal Gas also agreed to work with the California Air Resources Board to mitigate air quality issues related to the leak. At Wednesday's press conference, angry Porter Ranch residents protested against the officials' and had to be escorted out.

RELATED: ‘Shameful’ Chapter of Los Angeles History: County This Week Apologizes for Forced Sterilizations of Women, 1968-1974

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