On October 23rd, a gas leak was detected at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon facility. The leak is substantial, approximately 80,000 tons of methane gas was lost into the atmosphere during the first month, which equates to 25% of the entire Californian ordinary methane emission over the same period.
Methane gas is considered to be a greenhouse gas and is substantially more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere which is good, but it effectively absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere. This is not good.
The methane gas that is being emitted is the primary component of natural gas that is released by the earth and by our bodies and is non-toxic and odorless. However, the chemical, mercaptan, is added to gas for easy detection, and this odor is now in the local air. Sulfurous, some say it smells like rotting vegetables or smelly socks; the short of it is that the scent can be overwhelming. If this wasn’t serious enough, the Porter Ranch residents are also facing certain ill-effects from another odorant which is being used to detect the leak.
Porter Ranch is an upscale neighborhood, in the far northwest of the San Fernando Valley, just north of Northridge. Windy and normally blessed with pristine air, the last months have left many Porter Ranch residents with medical conditions, most notably nausea, headaches and nosebleeds.
Northridge shuls, along with Chabad of Porter Ranch, are the synagogues which are enjoyed by the Porter Ranch Jewish community. Rabbi Yochonon Baitelman is the shliach for Chabad of Porter Ranch. As a result of the gas leak, he was concerned that the Jewish community would stay home rather than enjoy the annual Chanukah party. He was pleased that more than 400 attended, although the conversation was largely focused on the gas leak. Everyone’s story was heard and different solutions are being worked out.
Rabbi Baitelman is as frustrated as anyone by the status quo, but he sees the greatest problem is ambiguity. He explained, “This is disconcerting to say the least. I would hope that we would have the technology and knowledge to deal with situations such as this. There has to be clarity and the politicians and leadership need to work together to find a clear solution.
“One of the greatest themes of Torah is Truth. That is the primary goal of every individual. The Rebbe’s hope and wish is that we bring clarity to the world. This is the world of Moshiach when there will ultimately be transparent light for the world’s populations, where goodness and kindness will flourish. In the meantime, the world is clamoring for guidance, be it a gas leak or other dysfunction in our communities. We need leaders who can guide us during these tumultuous times.
How long will it take to rectify the situation? The Gas Company are sending weekly letters to the residents but the only thing that is clear is that there is no answer. America is a leader in technology, but technical know-how seems to be missing at Porter Ranch. Latest reports confirm the plan is to drill a relief well to seal the leak, and then to plug the entire well with cement.
Gas company spokesman, Javier Mendoza, said they have received 4,550 calls about temporary housing. Mendoza confirmed that approximately 1,800 households have been moved to hotels or other temporary accommodations, and nearly 1,200 more are considering their options. Those relocating are booking for three month stays and it might take far longer before they can return home.
Meanwhile, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has received more than 1,500 complaints of foul odors since the leak was detected, said spokesman Sam Atwood.
On December 18th, the Board of Education approved plans to relocate students from Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School after winter break. The LA County Board of Supervisors has now declared a State of Emergency over the site of the leaking well, which means that additional funds can be made available to fix the problem.
Arlene Stein is a resident from Porter Ranch who is relocating to temporary housing in Sherman Oaks as a result of the gas leak. She shared her thoughts on the situation, “This situation is proof of the importance of clean energy. Everyone should let their political representatives know we must end urban oil drilling throughout California and switch to safer, cleaner alternative energy sources, before we destroy our environment.”