California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday declared a state of emergency more than two months after a natural gas leak began spewing tons of methane into the atmosphere near the Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch.
The leak at the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility — estimated to be leaking 100,000 pounds of methane every hour — was discovered Oct. 23, and a fix isn't expected until February or March. In the meantime, residents of neighboring communities have said the fumes are making them sick, and causing economic hardship as they have been pushed out of their homes.
Under the emergency proclamation, the governor's Office of Emergency Services will direct any state resources necessary to respond, and the office will also provide regular updates to residents.
The proclamation also calls for Southern California Gas to take all steps possible to capture gas and odorants until the leak is fixed. State regulators have also been charged with ensuring the company covers all costs of the leak, and with investigating the emissions and potential health risks caused by the leak.
In a statement, SoCalGas said they are and have been "willing and ready to cooperate" with state and local officials.
Over the last weeks, more than 800 people have signed a petition for the governor to sign a state of emergency.
Last month, a non-profit watchdog group called into question Brown's connections to Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCalGas. Brown's sister, Kathleen Brown, is a member of Sempra's board of directors, and the energy company has also donated to Brown's campaigns since 2006.
Brown has frequently taken stands against greenhouse gas emissions, traveling to Paris recently for the historic climate conference.
On Wednesday, environmental activist Erin Brokovich along with law firm Weitz & Luxenberg planned a town hall for residents affected by the leak. The firm is representing dozens of families who say they're experiencing a variety of health problems as well as the economic stress of moving into hotel rooms and other temporary accommodations.
SoCalGas has created a claims system for residents as well as offered an allowance for temporary housing.
Still, questions remain for residents about what the longterm air quality and health effects of the leak may be. Many residents have said they had no idea SoCalGas was storing so much natural gas in their area.
A local state of emergency was called last month, and the Los Angeles city attorney has also filed a lawsuit against the gas company.
Among the accountability measures outlined by Gov. Brown are provisions for more inspections and also requirements for gas storage facilities to create risk management and emergency plans.
Activist Alexandra Nagy of Food and Water Watch called the emergency declaration a relief. She also said there is more for the governor to do.
"This is a hard fought win for the residents of Porter Ranch and beyond affected by this noxious blowout," she said. "Gov. Brown can't deny that our continued reliance on fossil fuels and fracked natural gas is too great a risk. Now, Gov. Brown needs to shut the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility for good."
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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