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Science & Environment

LA Councilman Compares Porter Ranch Gas Leak To BP Oil Spill But On Land


We have a glimpse this morning of a community facing environmental disaster. It's an affluent area in the far reaches of Los Angeles. And for months now, it's been the site of a massive natural gas leak.


A utility company well has been releasing more than 1,200 tons of methane gas every day. Schools have closed.

INSKEEP: Air safety regulators have declared a no-fly zone. And 10,000 residents of Porter Ranch have been evacuated. That's about a third of its population.

GREENE: Governor Jerry Brown has now declared a state of emergency. And our colleague Renee Montagne reached the LA City councilman who represents Porter Ranch.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: Mitchell Englander has compared the natural gas leak to the BP oil spill - except on land in a populated community. And when he joined us to talk about it, I asked him why. Good morning.

MITCHELL ENGLANDER: Good morning. Yeah, it's been since October - roughly October 23 - 80,106 metric tons of methane have spewed through our community. You can smell it. And there are a lot of symptoms that people are experiencing every single day, dizzy, nausea, bloody noses, rashes. And in fact, we're seeing a high level of call-ins to the emergency room.

MONTAGNE: Well, give us a brief example of the sort of thing that you're hearing from your constituents.

ENGLANDER: People are - they're not upset anymore. They're beyond that. This has really shocked a community that didn't know. And that's the other part of it. Most people weren't aware that one of the largest gas storage facilities in the United States was in their backyard. There was, from what we're hearing, no disclosure when they bought their homes.

MONTAGNE: Why hasn't SoCal Gas, Southern California Gas Company - why hasn't it been able to stop this leak?

ENGLANDER: Well, there's a number of reasons here. This well - so you understand it I'll paint a picture - sits on a bluff and some open space that's five square miles. It's huge. There's 115 wells. Some of these wells are some 40, 50 years old. And they had emergency shutoff systems that they removed. And they're saying the regulations didn't require them to have them. We're not sure about that. I do know that the regulations and the regulatory authorities don't have enough teeth. And we're going to see to it that that changes. But what I think - what they were also negligent in was their operations and their contingency plans. They're operating a facility of this magnitude, this size and scope, feeding 20 million addresses. And they didn't have a backup plan. Plan B is having all the necessary equipment on site, not having to bring it in from the Gulf states like they did in this particular situation, which took weeks and weeks to set up. They're just learning now that some of the brine and oil and chemicals that are coming up from the ground and are landing on people's homes and turning their cars black - they've now put in a screening system to capture that. You know, this is going on 78 days later, and they just figured that out.

MONTAGNE: That does indeed sound, I'm sorry to say, like the BP oil spill in the aftermath. There is one thing that's different, however, and that is this leak is now responsible for an amazing amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the entire state of California.

ENGLANDER: Millions of cars is what the equivalent is. This is the equivalent of roughly - what I think they're saying - 25 percent of California's greenhouse gases. What's scary is when you start putting a human face on it, quite frankly, and not hearing the emission numbers and not hearing the long-term effects. When you start talking to, you know, Roberto (ph) or Kim Jim (ph) or some of the folks I spoke to just yesterday - Sam (ph). And he's telling me about his daughter being rushed to the emergency room three times with bloody noses and rashes, and all three kids are sick. His father, who is perfectly healthy, has been falling down. I mean, you start hearing these stories. That's scary.

MONTAGNE: Mitchell Englander is the Los Angeles councilmember who represents the area that includes Porter Ranch. Thank you so much for joining us.

ENGLANDER: Thank you very much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.