$1.8 billion settlement for Aliso Canyon gas leak isn’t good enough, victims say

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Residents of Porter Ranch renewed their call for the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility on the sixth anniversary of the massive gas leak. Photo courtesy of Alex Austin.

$1.8 billion.

That’s a staggering amount of money even for some Porter Ranch residents who are still dealing with the fallout from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak.

But others believe the amount offered by Southern California Gas Company is insufficient to put the pieces back together for the community that has been devastated by the largest uncontrolled gas leak in the nation’s history.

“I still have nightmares. I still feel the moment I felt the gas was coming out,” says Kyoko Hibino, a Porter Ranch resident and a co-founder of local activist organization “Save Porter Ranch.”

Like thousands who lived near the facility at the time of the leak, Hibino claims she continues to feel the excruciating health effects, like  headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. Then last year, she was diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s like the whole trauma stays.”

Hearing the countless stories of residents who are dealing with the physical implications of the leak is nothing new to State Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas).

“There were a lot of heavy metals that erupted out of that field all over the north San Fernando Valley. When you're dealing with things like barium and benzene, the long term effects are inevitable.”

That’s why Stern agrees with Hibino that the $1.8 billion settlement is not nearly enough to undo the damage, especially signing off the settlement agreement would take away victims’ ability to push back against SoCalGas.

“By signing off, you take compensation for your individual injuries. But the larger injury to the community and the largest social issue of whether we're going to be dependent on gas in Los Angeles — I don't think is dealt with in that class-action suit. We don't deal with any of the long-term issues of whether it's safe to just run a bunch of gas plants in our backyard.”

Agreeing to accept the settlement from SoCalGas also means victims cannot hold the company accountable for what happened on that windy October day six years ago.

“Here's about $1 billion, but we admit no fault,” says Stern, who believes the gas company will try hard to hold onto the Aliso Canyon site, which is still open.

“They want to fill it up [with gas] again because it's a very valuable asset to the gas company. They, even during the heart of the leak, were installing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-compression equipment out there to make good on their investment. It's in their interest to still use it because their shareholders' money's in it.”

Another reason residents and community members are up in arms about the gas storage facility in the northern San Fernando Valley: Instead of shutting down the site that leaked more than 100,000 metric tons of methane and other chemicals into the air, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is considering expanding the gas storage capacity by twofold.  

The CPUC says in its recent proposals that increasing the amount of natural gas stored at the Aliso Canyon facility is critical to help Southern California make it through the coming winter months because the locally produced natural gas would reliably ensure there are enough supplies for Southern California residents while keeping prices relatively low. 

CPUC Commissioner Commissioner Guzman Aceves also said the expansion of the gas storage would be only temporary.

“It will allow us to get through this winter while we continue our progress toward planning how to reduce or eliminate our use of Aliso Canyon by 2027 or 2035, or anytime in between.”

But 2027 is not soon enough, according to Senator Stern, especially when the state of California is committed to 100% renewable energy by 2045.

“This is really, to me, the first real test of our commitment to a fossil free future, and we've got to push that envelope.”

Hibino also wants Governor Gavin Newsom to keep up with his campaign promise to close the gas leak site.

“He claims he’s a climate leader. As a climate leader, he has to really step it up and do what he promised to do, which is the shutdown of Aliso Canyon.”

The Governor’s Office tells KCRW that while the Newsom administration still hopes to find a way to shut down the gas storage facility, it cannot be done so immediately because “California must maintain energy reliability and improve the safety of our existing facilities.”

KCRW has reached out to SoCalGas for a response.