Neighborhood leaders support continued operation of natural gas facility

By Gary Walker

SoCal Gas Co. may close up to a third of the gas monitoring wells at its Playa del Rey storage field
Google Photo by Andrew Mass

As Los Angeles County leaders and Porter Ranch residents fought tooth-and-nail to keep the Southern California Gas Co. from reopening its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa members were getting ready to show the company some local love.

On Aug. 1 — just three days after a state appeals court ruled that SoCal Gas could resume natural gas injections at the site of what’s widely regarded as the worst natural gas leak in U.S. history — Westchester-Playa leaders sought to pass a resolution to “fully endorse the Gas Company’s continued safe and efficient operation of its Playa del Rey storage location.”

Instead, a parade of local residents and a couple of board members who weren’t sold on the timing of the resolution convinced the council to host an informational community meeting with SoCal Gas representatives sometime later this year.

More than a dozen speakers lobbied for the council to defer voting until Los Angeles City Council committees complete an analysis of local oil and gas regulations and decide whether SoCal Gas should build a 2,500-foot buffer between its Playa del Rey gas facility and homes in the bluffs overlooking Culver Boulevard.

“This [motion] seems very premature,” said Stephanie Tatro, a social worker and Playa del Rey resident among those who argued that it would be more responsible for the neighborhood council to let policymakers finish their work.

Neighborhood council member Michele Cooley-Strickland said a community meeting, possibly even coupled with a tour of the facility, would allow residents to directly interact with SoCal Gas staff and ask pointed questions.

“As a homeowner and parent who can see the plant from my windows, I had concerns about potential accidents affecting local homes and wetlands until I became much more knowledgeable about this specific facility, its history, operations, and the role it serves in energy supply for California,” Cooley- Strickland said. “The public would be better served by firsthand education and dialog with SoCal Gas experts than a letter from the board endorsing the Gas Co.’s operations in Playa del Rey, particularly as the letter was written.”

Playa del Rey residents have expressed growing concerns about gas leaks since the October 2015 leak at Aliso Canyon, with a grassroots campaign to close the facility picking up steam earlier this summer.

The Playa del Rey storage facility is much smaller and much less active than the Aliso Canyon facility, however. There are 114 gas wells in Aliso Canyon, compared to 54 in Playa del Rey.

SoCal Gas has already convened community advisory councils and activated a community telephone, text and email notification system for neighbors of both the Playa del Rey and Aliso Canyon facilities.

Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench said she was happy the council will set up a community meeting with SoCal Gas.

When activists campaigning to shutter the Playa del Rey facility held a town hall meeting in June, Hench circulated a letter warning locals not to fall for “misinformation” about the Playa del Rey gas storage facility.

“The community needs to understand the facility and its operations better. That was clear from the misinformation that was shared in public comment and the comments from the board,” Hench said last week. “No one benefits from misinformation.”