By Nancy Kaufman
Observer Staff Writer 

Playa Del Rey Gas Storage Facility Called "An Accident Waiting to Happen"

Playa del Rey storage facility is a future Aliso Canyon type event waiting to happen.

 

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Unplanned natural gas release from Playa Del Rey Storage Facility in January 2013.

In April, Food & Water Watch held a meeting at the Marina del Rey Lloyd Taber Library for concerned residents to learn about the urgency of the need to shut down Playa del Rey gas storage facility.

According to La Curbed, in 2016, just months after SoCal Gas Company plugged up the methane leak at its Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch, a concern about potential leaks was brewing at the Playa del Rey gas storage field.

The Aliso Canyon had the worst methane leak in U.S. history. The Playa del Rey storage facility is a future potential leak waiting to happen.

According to NPR, the Aliso Canyon leak “ is so large that it's increasing California's atmospheric load of methane — the primary component of natural gas — by 25 percent.”

It’s not only the organizers at Food & Water Watch who are adamant about shutting down the Playa del Rey Storage Facility, but also the directors at the Ballona Institute.

Organizers, Alexandra Nagy, and Andréa Leon Grossman of Food & Water Watch gave a power point presentation on the facts about the Playa del Rey gas storage facility. According to Nagy, the goal for Food & Water Watch is to shut down the facility. The decision-makers involved are LA City Attorney Mike Feuer and the LA City Council. David Graham-Caso was present at the meeting at the Marina del Rey Library and states that Mike Bonin of CD-11 supports the shut down.

What needs to happen, Nagy explained, is to change the LA zoning for oil and gas activities to not be allowed within 1,500 feet of sensitive receptors. Such as homes, school and hospitals.

The Playa del Rey gas storage field is located beneath and adjacent to the Ballona Wetlands between Marina del Rey and LAX and has 29 active gas wells, including eight that were drilled in the 1930s, based on an age distributions chart of SoCal Gas storage wells, filed with the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission).

In 1942 the federal government took over the oil field and converted it to a natural gas storage field. It wasn’t until 1953 that the field was sold to Southern Cal Gas Co.

Much of the media’s attention over the past couple of years has been on the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility when it spewed over 5 billion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere. It was considered the worst leak in United States history. Due to concerns from local residents about continued gas fumes and some accidents over the years, environmental advocates are now focusing on the Playa del Rey storage facility.

About 10 years ago, So Cal Gas settled a complained over odors coming from the Playa del Rey Gas Storage Field.

According to a 2016 news report by KPCC, the settlement required SoCal Gas “to minimize its venting of natural gas, to capture some of the vapors coming from the plant and to conform to the South Coast Air Quality District’s requirements.”

SoCal Gas also is required to monitor the area and check for ground sinking that could result from the withdrawal of oil or gas.

IN 2007, the non-profit Environmental Law Foundation sued SoCal Gas. KPCC reported:

The nonprofit Environmental Law Foundation sued SoCal Gas in 2007, claiming that it violated California's Prop 65 anti-pollution law by injecting too much gas underground at Playa del Rey, causing the gas to contaminate the city's drinking water. That case settled in 2012, with the company paying nearly $1 million and agreeing to increased gas leak monitoring, said foundation attorney Jim Wheaton…

The natural gas is stored in a partially depleted oilfield that is located approximately 6,000 feet below ground level. Therein, the stored natural gas mixes with the remaining crude oil from the oilfield and the gas becomes enriched with Benzene, Toluene and Ethyl benzene ("BTEX"), chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects.

According to reports from DOGGR (State of California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) and courtesy of KPCC, about 14 years ago Playa del Rey had an emergency shutdown valve, and “the field malfunctioned in 2003, resulting in a fine oil mist covering some nearby homes. SoCal Gas paid to clean homes, cars and yards.

Concerns for leakage from the Playa del Rey storage field continue into 2017 as Food & Water Watch, Ballona Institute, and some of the members of the LA City Council, including Mike Bonin of CD11 and Paul Koretz of CD5, are all interested in shutting down the Playa del Rey gas storage facility – for health and safety reasons, but also because the City is committed to doing its part toward lessening the predicted impacts from climate change by keeping fossil fuels, like methane gas, in the ground.

The Playa del Rey Gas Storage Facility is one of three such fields in LA County. Although it’s the smallest facility, it is, a major disaster waiting to happen, due to its proximity to so many homes and businesses.

Nagy, of Food & Water Watch presented the situation of Aliso Canyon as a way to understand the potential danger of the Playa del Rey facility. These storage facilities are old oil fields that release toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, which people are breathing. In Aliso Canyon there have been common occurrences of nosebleeds, and rashes, and also, in some instances, extreme cases of cancer and blood disorders.

Although there have not as of yet been reported cases of cancer and other illnesses in Playa del Rey, it is important that the community be aware of the potential danger and, as Alexandra and Andrea of Food & Water Watch explained, work at the grassroots level will help raise awareness and eventually get the facility shut down.

Food & Water Watch is a national organization that provides resources on the ground level on how to organize to shut down the facility. It helps empower community. If the people of Aliso Canyon were able to make it happen, as residents of the community all came together, then Playa del Rey can follow in their footsteps to help shut it all down.

The goal set, according to Mike Bonin, is to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Andrea Leon Grossman of Food & Water Watch explained, about the Playa del Rey gas storage facility, that “people think its steel container that contains gas but it’s a repurposed oil field, and when there is a massive blow out, methane and fine mist of oil and chemicals like benzene in the environment get in your home, on your furniture and drapery, and has a layer of oil that had to be expertly cleaned.” She also said that benzene is an endocrine disrupter and a carcinogen.

Andrea also noted that what is at the core of the SoCal Gas, who owns and operates the Playa del Rey gas storage field, is greed. She says, “greed is the bottom line. Everything is profit. They cut safety measures. Re-purposed oil well is not protected. They use the storage facility to hedge gas and wait until gas prices go up and then sell it.”

Not only the human residents who live near the Playa del Rey gas field are vulnerable to suffering health issues as a result of the toxic chemical emissions, but also the wildlife who live in their natural habitat in the Ballona Wetlands.

According to Roy van de Hoek, a scientist at the Ballona Institute, the birds perch on cement blocks in the wetlands that are very close to vents that have been deliberately placed there. These vents are flammable and can wreak havoc on the birds’ respiratory systems. Van de Hoek explained that the toxic chemicals that escape through the vents are a sort of “toxic soup,” that are essentially air poisons.

He also talked about hydrogen sulfide as one of these toxic chemicals that can actually get into the birds’ lungs. Van de Hoek said that the birds “respiratory system is impacted and there is a kind of temporary suffocation that goes right to the brain and lungs. When the hydrogen sulfide is emitted into the air from the vents, the small songbirds in the Ballona Wetlands inhale it and, as he says, moments or hours later can, “fall unconscious and meet their death.”

Van de Hoek also talked about how the toxic gases escape through the venting in the wetlands and get into the vascular tissue of the plants which cause the leaves to die.

Roy’s partner, Marcia Hanscom, co founder of Ballona Institute, and organizer writer and activist, explained that “we know from Aliso Canyon that there are dozens of people that are still very sick from the blow-out and continued leaks since then and we don’t want that for our community at Playa del Rey.”

Hanscom has been working for over ten years on conservation and environmental justice issues through the Ballona Institute and protecting the wildlife in the wetlands is one of her priorities. She is also very concerned about the air quality in the neighborhood that is subject to pollutants from the Playa del Rey Gas Storage Field that is in close proximity of the wetlands and the homes of human residents.

Marcia says, “there is scientific evidence that gas and storage field harmed people in Aliso Canyon, and no one is considering the harm to the animals in the wetlands.”

She continues, “BTEX, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene are compounds that occur naturally in crude oil an can be found in sea water in the vicinity of natural gas and petroleum. These chemicals are known to cause cancer and are on the Proposition 65 list as a warning.. Signs of with this warning are posted throughout the Ballona Wetlands because of this methane storage field.”

Hanscom is well aware of the environmental issues of the Ballona Wetlands and the impact that the Playa del Rey gas storage field has on the community. She says that “ten or twelve years ago there was talk of a cancer cluster of pets that live on the bluffs, as well as a lawsuit from several residents.”

The focus of Ballona Institute was to save land from the developers. Marcia is also dedicated to protecting the environment from any kind of leakage or potential blow-out that could arise from the gas storage facility. She explains that the issues are many fold: “Not many people know that while the state bought surface rights of the 600 acres of now-protected lands, SoCal Gas still has the mineral rights.”

What is rather startling is what Hanscom said about the pipeline that runs under California. It goes right through Playa del Rey, under the storage field and it carries with it imported fracked gas from Texas and Oklahoma. Our current head of the EPA is of course Pruitt, who was former attorney general of Oklahoma and a big supporter of fracking. This is where we see a sort of six degrees of separation happening within the gas and oil industry. It’s bad enough that Oklahoma has had to experience frequent earthquake swarms as a result of the fracking, but now, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice and Playa Vista have to deal with the fracked gas running through the pipeline under ground.

The SoCal Gas Company, Hanscom says, “buys the gas in summer when its cheap and pipes it in.” She also explains that the field has been mostly depleted of oil since the oil field was used in the 1920s and ‘30s. Now the storage field is used to store gas, which is pumped 6,000 feet under high pressure. It’s pumped in between the rock space where the oil once was that has since been depleted.

Hanscom gives a brief primer on the process, “fracked gas is relatively clean pure when it arrives methane. Then it goes into the old oil field. Then it comes up through wells. It has to be cleaned from the BTEX chemicals mixed in from the oil.”

Neighbors are quite concerned about living so close to this gas storage facility. SoCal Gas brings it and stores it. Then it needs to come back up form the wells to be cleaned and then the pollution bearing emissions are released into the air.

Hanscom emphasizes this: “It doesn’t make sense to have the gas storage field underneath an ecological reserve or next to and under peoples’ homes.”

There is a possible solution to this potential repeat of Aliso Canyon in Playa del Rey. There is a possible city ordinance proposed by council members Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz.

Hanscom states, “If the ordinance passes it may have to shut done. Bottom line when this facility was first built in 1942 there were not that many people around and not appreciation for wildlife and wetlands and now that we know how important wetlands are and so many more people are living there, it doesn’t make sense for the facility to still be there."

There is also concern about the impact on the birds coyotes, rabbits, lizards, monarch butterflies and other wildlife that live right near the new well, near Falmouth, at the bottom of Cabora Drive in Playa del Rey.

The Playa del Rey Gas Storage Field is a concern for environmental justice, according to Hanscom, who explains this:

“The prevailing winds go from the ocean inland so the lower-income people that live in Del Rey, Mar Vista Gardens, all the way to East LA are the people who are going to receive the brunt of problems that begin here at the gas storage field by the ocean.”

The priority for the organizers, activists and groups such as the local group, Ballona Institute, and national non-profit, Food & Water Watch, is, as Nagy said, “#shutitalldown!”

Flame on a gas stove

Resisman, the NASA astronaut commented, when he attended this year’s March for Science that the planet “looks incredibly fragile. It looks like a gust of wind could come by and strip it away. It looks so incredibly tenuous. And it was terrifying,” Riesman said this in reference to an observation he made of earth from the vantage point of being in space.

Keeping in mind, the gravity of our planet, we must appeal to our representatives, and as scientist Roy van de Hoek said, “in the spirit of Tom Hayden ask to shut it (gas storage facility) all down!”

For more on how to help shut down the Playa del Rey storage facility, please visit this site:

https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/office-location/california-los-angeles

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

DukeDukesherer writes:

Excellent article! I have been writing about this accident waiting to happen for many years, but instead of realizing the potential disaster that we might be facing, we continue to densify the region with more dwellings, offices and shops, and people just keep moving in. And the natural gas storage is just the tip of this iceberg. Although indeed the natural gas is stored in old oil wells, there are hundreds more wells that were never properly capped off. When the oil ran out, they simply pumped a few yards of gunite down the shafts. The nasty stuff that they use in oil drilling still sits there in the ground. Really nasty stuff such as mercury, benzene, and Hydrofluoric acid. These wells were drilled and later capped, all over PDR. Finally, the entire region below the bluffs was an ancient embayment running to the Baldwin Hills , and if anyone took the time to read the Governors Global Warming report (2009), by 2050/2100, it will be again. It's time to build ark's, not condos.

 
 
 

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