Residents have long called upon state regulators to shut down the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field after the nation’s largest gas leak sickened and displaced thousands of San Fernando Valley residents.
Now the Los Angeles Unified School District has joined the throng. Its board voted unanimously late Tuesday to urge the state to close the field just north of Porter Ranch.
“Although the Porter Ranch area is not where I live, it is in my board district — and I was a witness to the horrors that happened in that area as a result of the Aliso Canyon gas leak,” said District 3 board member Scott Schmerelson, author of the motion.
But while local business groups have raised concerns about potential energy shortages as a result of its closure, he said, “not one word was made about health — or the well-being of the kids, or the residents, or even the pets.”
After impassioned testimony by Porter Ranch parents, children and environmental activists, the LAUSD governing board voted to ask that the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the Public Utilities Commission and Gov. Jerry Brown decommission the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
It will also request that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power not burn diesel, a source of pollution, at its Sun Valley and Wilmington power plants to replace any resulting shortage of natural gas.
The decision by the seven-member board follows a request last week from the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council that Gov. Jerry Brown and state agencies close the 3,600-acre gas field beneath the hills north of Porter Ranch.
It also follows a motion by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich calling for a continued halt to natural gas injection into the field. The supervisors last week asked that a hold be put on future gas injections until the cause of the four-month blowout could be determined.
The Aliso Canyon gas leak, from October 2015 through February, spewed more than 100,000 metric tons of methane into the air, forcing the relocation of 8,400 families and two Porter Ranch elementary schools.
Thousands of residents in the north San Fernando Valley complained of being sickened by the invisible gas cloud.
“Before our school was moved, my brother and I were very sick,” Cameron Michaels, who was in the fifth grade at Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary School, told the board before the vote. “We had nosebleeds ... it was hard to breathe.”
Early this month, Southern California Gas. Co. beseeched state regulators to allow it to reinject gas into its Oat Mountain storage field after buttressing the safety of its 114 remaining wells. Gas company officials said they’ve met every state requirement for reopening.
They also said the Aliso Canyon field is critical to providing energy to 215,000 businesses, 5.6 million residential customers and dozens of power plants throughout the region. No one from SoCalGas spoke before the LAUSD board.
School officials and environmental activists were quick to point out that none of the brown-outs predicted as a result of the now nearly empty gas field this summer had come to pass.
“We want to keep Aliso Canyon closed,” said Castlebay parent Michelle Theriault, 48, of Porter Ranch, one of two dozen actives and residents who staged a sidewalk protest before the vote. “We think it’ll never be safe for our children.
“It’s not needed. It’s not necessary. So let’s put our health before profits.”
State law now requires that the gas field not reopen until it’s been declared safe by oil and gas regulators.
The motion by the nation’s second largest school district to call for a shutdown of Aliso Canyon aimed to ensure the safety of the staff and students at 20 L.A. Unified schools within five miles of the site.
Among the 19-point resolution were declarations that more than a third of the wells were more than 60 years old, and that the gas company has reported an average of two leaks a day from the facility.
“I thank my colleagues on the board for their support in urging Gov. Jerry Brown, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to shut down this site,” Schmerelson said afterward. “Nothing short of closing Aliso Canyon will allow us the security of knowing that its operation will not harm our families, our communities and future generations.”