Politics

LAUSD board backs shutdown of Aliso Canyon gas field

Cameron Michaels, 11, of Porter Ranch addresses the board on a gas leak in his neighborhood during a regular Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Michaels, who is a fifth grader at Castlebay Lane Elementary School, says he has headaches and nosebleeds.
He also testified to the LAUSD board Nov. 15, 2016 calling for the Aliso Canyon gas field to be shut down.
Cameron Michaels, 11, of Porter Ranch addresses the board on a gas leak in his neighborhood during a regular Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Michaels, who is a fifth grader at Castlebay Lane Elementary School, says he has headaches and nosebleeds. He also testified to the LAUSD board Nov. 15, 2016 calling for the Aliso Canyon gas field to be shut down.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The board for Los Angeles schools voted Tuesday on a resolution calling for the permanent closure of the natural gas storage field near Porter Ranch that leaked last year, prompting the relocation of two schools. 

The motion passed the Los Angeles Unified School District's board unanimously.

Board Member Scott Schmerelson proposed the resolution, saying the storage field operated by Southern California Gas Company posed too much of a continuing risk. Though the leak was deemed sealed last February, Schmerelson said families were still getting sick in the area.

"Given this uncertainty, we simply cannot take chances with the health and safety of the students and staff," he said in a statement after the vote.

His district includes Castle Bay Elementary School and Porter Ranch Community School. Some 1,800 students and staff from the campuses were relocated to schools in Northridge for several months after parents reported their children were getting nosebleeds, headaches and other symptoms. About 20 LAUSD campuses are within five miles of the gas field, Schmerelson said.

"SoCalGas is disappointed in the LAUSD's resolution to support those seeking to close Aliso Canyon," said company spokeswoman Melissa Bailey. She said closing the gas field would be unnecessary and would increase the risk of gas shortages.

Without the storage capacity the Aliso Canyon reservoir provides, the company cannot meet the L.A. Basin's peak gas demand this winter, Bailey said, citing a report prepared by state energy officials including the California Energy Commission.

The 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility is one of the nation's largest underground storage fields. One of its 115 wells ruptured in late October 2015 causing gas to flow uncontrolled until mid-Feburary. While the leak was active, the  field's gas volume was reduced to lower the pressure on the remaining wells and the company was barred from refilling.

The company has overhauled many of the wells and plugged others, and it is asking state regulators for permission to resume injecting gas underground.

The effort to resume operations has been protested in several venues. The  vote by the LAUSD represents one of the largest government agencies to take a position against the field re-opening. Last week, the city-backed Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council also voted against it resuming operations.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted last week to write a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking the state to bar SoCal Gas from refilling the gas reservoir until after an independent study is completed into the cause of the well rupture. The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the Public Utilities Commission are overseeing the contractor doing the study, and they have issued no date when it might be finished.

The company and various spokespersons from business groups have argued that the region is too dependent on the supply of natural gas at Aliso Canyon and that a protracted or permanent shutdown of the gas field could imperil the L.A. Basin's energy supply, leading to blackouts or gas shortages.

The school board vote is not legally binding because the gas field is regulated by the state. In pressing the school board to call for the permanent closure, residents were hoping to exert more pressure on the state authorities that do have that power, said Porter Ranch resident Michelle Theriault.

"Gov. Brown and our political leaders need to decide if they are going to help us," Theriault said.

In the unanimous vote, the school board also called on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to refrain from burning diesel fuel at power plants in Wilmington or Sun Valley to supplement low natural gas supplies. The board resolution also called on the district's health staffers to work to reduce the health risks at other businesses that pose air quality or chemical threats to school campuses.