Three years after the worst gas leak in U.S. history forced the closure of Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) storage facilities at Aliso Canyon, nearly half the wells operating before the massive methane leak are closed after state regulators determined they are no longer safe to operate.
Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Daily News show that of the 114 wells SoCalGas built to inject and withdraw natural gas at its Aliso Canyon site, 51 have been taken out of operation due to safety concerns, and another three wells have been permanently sealed.
According to the Daily News, state records show that only 60 of the SoCalGas wells at Aliso Canyon have passed the new inspection protocols implemented after the gas leak, which forced thousands of Porter Ranch-area residents to abandon their homes and businesses for months.
SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon facility spewed natural gas into the skies above Los Angeles County for months starting Oct. 23, 2015 and running uncontained until the company was able to plug the leak on Feb. 5 of the following year.
Thermal images of the SoCalGas facility at the time show an invisible volcano, with plumes of gas blasting in the sky and wafting across the surrounding land. The fumes sickened thousands of people with headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, and other symptoms while raising concerns about toxic benzene exposures.
Residents affected by the massive leak and others concerned about the environmental damages being wrought by faulty natural gas operations say that despite what gas companies and state regulators say, there are no sound reasons for allowing SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon wells to operate. They say there is a glut of natural gas plants in the state producing more energy than California needs, and that the state could shutter 28 of its natural gas facilities “and not dim a single light,” according to the Daily News.
“Previous leaks, lawsuits from first responders who say they were sickened from the fumes, combined with the agencies allowing the reopening of the facility and its diminished importance over the last three years have raised questions about whether SoCal Gas should continue operating the gas storage facility on a hillside less than a mile from a community of 30,000 located in the San Fernando Valley,” the Daily News reported.
The state continues to investigate what caused the three-year old SoCalGas leak, yet its willingness to allow the company to reopen most of its Aliso Canyon wells has some residents fuming.
Porter Ranch resident Craig Galanti told the Daily News that he is “appalled” that the state’s investigation of the gas leak has taken this long, calling it “an obvious manipulation” to allow the controversial wells to reopen.
“Yet, they put people at risk (by allowing more gas storage) of a potential failure without knowing the root cause,” he told Daily News.