The Aliso Canyon methane leak in Porter Ranch started in October 2015. It was finally capped in February 2016. While it was active, I wrote about how the leak affected my family and my asthmatic son. But the scandal surrounding this environmental and human disaster continues – now over the cleanup operation.
This week, cleanup efforts inside homes, many of which are still coated in oily residue, were temporarily halted because of the gas company’s incompetence. Yet, hundreds of local families are still displaced.
This interview is with “Joanna” (not her real name), a mom from one of those displaced families at Porter Ranch. Her family of five – including a newborn baby – plus two dogs were relocated from their home in Porter Ranch after the Aliso Canyon gas leak began in northern Los Angeles County in October. Joanna’s family was moved to Simi Valley, which is notably, not even in L.A. County. They are still living there now.
How did you first become aware of the methane leak?
We smelled it for days but didn’t know the extent of the problem. (Tweet this) On October 23, 2015, I went for a walk and could smell it in the air. When I returned from my walk, I found a letter from the SoCal Gas Company notifying us of the gas leak.
How did it look, smell, and feel in your neighborhood when the leak was active?
You could smell the strong, potent odor in the air. Our community was quite empty. It felt like a ghost town. Because so many people had relocated, there wasn’t much activity in our local parks or on sidewalks. Not many residents were out walking dogs anymore. Kids were no longer playing outdoors like they used to. It made me very sad and scared.
Did you feel the information provided to protect your family was adequate?
Absolutely not. We had to make our relocation decision based on very few facts provided to us by the gas company. I felt we were left in the dark for a very long time — about how the leak occurred, how it was to be fixed and the timeline and progress on fixing the problem. I had to do extensive research on my own time. I wish I had received information on why it happened and why steps weren’t implemented ahead of time to prevent something like this from happening. I would love to know what action the gas company is taking (if any) to prevent a gas leak like this from occurring again.
Even today, while we are getting some information from the gas company, I am not getting specific questions answered. I would like to talk to someone who has the authority and information to help me, as opposed to a service representative that just takes down our contact information.
Where do you place blame for what happened?
I believe the SoCal Gas Company is 100% at fault for this gas leak. I am confident they could have taken steps ahead of time that would have prevented this disaster from happening but they failed to do so.
Also, they should have had a plan already in place in the event something like this occurred. We are in earthquake country; it is not too much to ask that they have a disaster relief plan in place before the disaster occurs.
Did your family, neighbors, or pets experience any unusual health effects that coincided with the leak?
Our kids experienced nosebleeds during the gas leak and both our dogs came down with urinary tract infections and stones in their bladders. We experienced anxiety, panic attacks, distress, fatigue, headaches and vertigo constantly. We visited family away from Porter Ranch and it was easy to see that leaving the disaster zone resulted in relief of these problems.
Being evacuated is not easy. How has your family responded to the move? How are your kids adjusting?
Moving a family of five (and 2 dogs) is definitely not easy and it certainly wasn’t a move we planned on. It was a last minute abrupt decision in the best interest of our family’s health. Health is our number one priority, so moving was a “no brainer” decision, especially after giving birth to our third child about 2 weeks prior to the gas leak. Since the move, our kids have experienced anxiety, panic attacks and appear to have more insecurities than before. Their sleep patterns and habits have completely changed. They have had to adapt to a new environment and routines, which has caused new and different behaviors. It’s been more than five months and they are still not quite settled in.
We’ve also had to do a lot more driving since we are so far from work, school, church, friends and extended family.
Are you now able to go back to your home? Or have you decided to relocate permanently?
We don’t feel its safe to return to Porter Ranch yet. There is still too much uncertainty at this time. We needed to commit to something new for a reasonable amount of time as opposed to wait around to find out what would happen next. We are unsure where we will move permanently. We thought we would be in Porter Ranch indefinitely.
Would permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon facility be enough to bring you back to Porter Ranch?
Note: Joanna’s family is currently involved in litigation against SoCal Gas, like many hundreds more.