Can They Smell The Gas In Paris?

Over in Paris, other countries think California and its leader, Governor Jerry Brown, have it nailed on stopping climate change. Earlier this year, in Sacramento, Chistiana Figueres, the top United Nations official on the climate talks, put it like this: “The world is committed, but they don’t know how. California has figured out how.”

Not so fast. California still gets most of its electricity from natural gas and out-of-state coal-fired power plants, and still coddles the oil and gas industry. Now, an out-of-control natural gas leak from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility, one of the largest fracked gas storage facilities in the U.S., has apparently embarrassed Governor Jerry Brown, the toast of Paris climate talks. It’s spotlighted our dependence on green-house gas emitting fossil fuels. 

Forget “Mapgate,” the recent scandal where Brown had the state’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) map his family ranch for oil and gas. Was it really the Porter Ranch leak that led Brown to force the recent, sudden resignation of Oil & Gas Supervisor Steve Bohlen, not Mapgate?

A source close to DOGGR tells us that Southern California Gas’s shoddy maintenance at the facility is to blame for the leak and Bohlen's departure just as the Paris climate talks began. The liner inside a storage well evidently failed, and now gas is escaping up its sides. 

The amount of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, leaking into the atmosphere is equivalent to one quarter of the state’s methane emissions from all sources. It has caused nausea, headaches and nosebleeds ever since it started six weeks ago. So far, 700 families have left and another 1,000 are applying for help to get out. Hundreds are sick and air quality regulators have gotten more than 1,000 health and odor complaints.

Los Angeles’s City Attorney Mike Feuer just filed suit against SoCalGas for how it mishandled the leak. Obviously, state regulators don’t hold companies’ feet to the fire over emergency preparedness or bother to check on maintenance to prevent these accidents in the first place—just think BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, or the Chevron Richmond refinery explosion caused by poor maintenance stoked by cost-cutting measures.

It’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to direct the state to prosecute companies that put the public’s health at risk during a transition to green energy. And it’s time for him to prevent massive accidents that increase greenhouse gas emissions by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, stop fracking and other risky forms of oil and gas extraction, and speed up California’s transition to clean energy. Then, the rest of the world can say that California has greenhouse emissions nailed.

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