Lawyers and Settlements
By Gordon Gibb
Lost in the headlines over the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Leak disaster is the impact to the Porter Ranch business community. As residents enter the high point of the Yuletide shopping season, buying gifts and holiday supplies for Christmas is the last thing on the minds of residents, many of whom have already been relocated to temporary accommodations while Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) and its partners attempt to plug the leak.
There will likely be many more relocations to come, given the estimate that successfully capping the leak could take months. And while residents can be relocated temporarily, most businesses can’t. Thus, neighboring businesses are left with no other option but to wait it out, hoping that any dip in their revenues stemming from lost Yuletide sales and continuing business in the New Year will not put them under.
In the meantime, the residents and the business community of Porter Ranch have already had their Thanksgiving observances affected, and now are looking at a similarly negative impact on Christmas and other holiday celebrations, now just days away. And all because of this:
The video was shot with a highly specialized Optical Gas Imaging camera. It shows a time-lapse image of the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Leak disaster. This has been going on since at least October 23, when the breach was first discovered. Almost two months in, officials suggest it could take a similar amount of time or longer to reach the compromised underground well and cap it.
So far there doesn’t appear to be any definitive statements forthcoming from neighboring Chambers of Commerce or business advocacy groups. However, various statements and hyperbole in relation to the emergence of a Porter Ranch lawsuit includes Porter Ranch businesses when referencing Porter Ranch residents and the impact the gas leak is having.
That impact is significant, with many comparing this crisis to the BP offshore oil spill of five years ago. And while various pundits have noted that a gas leak is not as “dirty” as an oil spill in terms of obvious impact to the environment aesthetic, the damage, both short- and long-term, has the potential to be serious, albeit invisible.
A Bloomberg report carried in Washington Post Business (12/7/15) noted that amounts of natural gas spewing into the atmosphere resulting from the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Leak disaster could equate to the emissions and greenhouse gasses of a half-million vehicles.
To review, the massive gas leak stemming from an underground storage well was first discovered October 23. SoCalGas and its partners attempted to force liquids and various chemicals into the breach in similar fashion to attempts at stemming the offshore BP oil spill. In both cases, they were unsuccessful.
The current strategy, also akin to how the massive BP oil spill was finally contained, is to bore another access point to the underground well, connect to it, and intercept the damaged well.
That could take months.
Natural gas is normally odorless, as well as colorless (although escaping gas can be seen with an infrared camera, as the video above shows). In order to aid in leak detection, mercaptan is routinely added to natural gas in order to give it the trademark “rotten egg” smell. While this can be an important advantage to technicians for leak detection, having to deal with the smell long-term has been more than residents of Porter Ranch can bear.
Many families have been relocated already. Reports abound that many more families are requesting relocation, given the expected time frame to plug the leak.
For many families, the smell cast a pall over their Thanksgiving celebrations. It now threatens Christmas - and Porter Ranch businesses share in the loss. In addition to those families having relocated thus far, reports suggest upwards of 1,700 families have or intend to request relocation assistance.
Bloomberg notes as much as 60,000 kilograms of natural gas is escaping from the breach every hour. That translates to almost a million tons of greenhouse gasses that have already escaped into the air above the Aliso Canyon, located about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The California Air Resources Board has estimated the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Leak disaster is large enough to increase California’s output of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - by 25 percent.
The short-term effects of exposure to the gas and the rotten egg smell has been, for many, headaches, nausea and nosebleeds.
Long-term health effects are another matter. According to a news report carried by KNX1070 Newsradio, CBS 2 and KCAL 9Los Angeles (12/11/15), a memo issued to Los Angeles County supervisors by a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health contained this statement: “As the duration of exposure increases, these trace levels can produce significant long-term health effects.”
To that end, Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director of Toxicology and Assessment for the county of Los Angeles, weighed in for viewers yesterday (December 11).
“I think what we’re viewing here is an ever-evolving situation,” he told reporters during an on-camera interview. “We have, at the beginning of the situation, a gas leak where we were given the impression that it might be fixed in a few days, maybe a week. At that time we had assurance that people would not incur any long-term health risks from this. But as the situation has evolved, we’re in our seventh week now, it gave us pause to say, now we really need to look at all the chemicals of concern that may cause long-term health risks. Fortunately, all the readings that we have so far indicate that we are still not at the risk of long-term health effects or permanent health problems from this exposure. But we need to monitor this stuff every day because it is an ever-evolving situation.”
Then there is the issue of radon, a naturally occurring byproduct of uranium that normally remains trapped in the ground. But as SoCalGas and its partners bore into the ground in an attempt to stem a leak that is unleashing a constant cloud of gas into the atmosphere, radon has crept into the conversation.
Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, next to smoking.
So far, the concern at the moment is confined to the workers actively toiling at the site, Rangan said.
“But exposure to radon remains a theoretical possibility,” Dr. Rangan said, “and when you’re addressing a problem that might be several hundred or even several thousand feet deep, you might generate what are called preferential pathways for something like radon, beneath the Earth’s surface, to make its way up to the surface. So primarily our concern about radon is from the worker’s exposure, for the people actually doing the repair job. If we find radon there, we can address the situation. And if radon does exist in the work site then we may need to have to look at the residential community and monitor for it there, too.”
Interviewers asked the doctor what he would do, personally, if his family was being affected by the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Leak disaster.
READ MORE PORTER RANCH GAS LEAK LEGAL NEWS
“I think the message here is; if you are living in that area and you are not smelling anything, by all means, stay in your house. And I would do the same. If you smell something and you are not having symptoms, or you can tolerate the mild symptoms you do have, by all means, stay in your house. But, if you are smelling stuff, and you are experiencing symptoms and you find those symptoms to be unbearable, whether it’s for you or your children, or anyone else in your family, then by all means relocate until the situation has been resolved.”
As residents and business owners alike struggle with the short-term crisis at hand, the long-term impact on health and the overall environment has yet to be determined.
In the meantime, the emergence of a Porter Ranch Gas leak lawsuit is indicative of a growing sense of loss and anger.