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Public Meeting On Aliso Gas Fields Gets Shut Down As Vocal Residents Demand To Keep Facilities Closed

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Vocal residents from the Porter Ranch area took to a public meeting held on Wednesday to reject the possible reopening of the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. The meeting, hosted by state regulators, was intended to gather input on the potential of reopening the Aliso gas field. SoCal Gas will need state approval to start this process, according to KPCC.

It wasn't long after the meeting's start that resident Matt Pakucko, who heads the "Save Porter Ranch" group, took up a microphone unannounced and demanded that the meeting take on an agenda devised by the group. After his mic was cut off, a dozen supporters took to the stage with "Shut It Down" t-shirts and spoke on the various maladies that locals have been experiencing, which they attribute to gas leaks.

As shown in videos from that meeting, it was a raucous affair, with the crowd voicing their displeasure throughout. Spokespersons who were in favor of reopening the wells were met with boos, as well as phrases such as "Shame on you," and "You don't even live where we live."

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One of the sticking points was that an investigation into the root cause for the leak is still in its planning stages. Residents say they're outraged that the gas field is being considered for re-opening, when the cause of the leak has not been fully evaluated. Several city officials, including L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and City Councilman Mitchell Englander, said at the meeting that the facilities should be closed until the incident has been evaluated by an independent party. A 2014 document from SoCal Gas showed that the company knew that it needed to repair its aging infrastructure.

The atmosphere at Wednesday's gathering was so charged that, at some point, a moderator cited safety concerns and ended the meeting.

As noted in another KPCC article, the state has mandated that, in order for the gas field to resume operations, two public hearings must be held before a decision is made. The second meeting is scheduled for Thursday night from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Hilton in Woodland Hills. On the "Save Porter Ranch" Facebook page, organizers say that, after Wednesday's meeting, they've devised "a proposed new agenda for tonight's hearing." The group added, "Will this even fly considering The Brown Act requirements? Personally, I do not think so. We shall see." The Brown Act, generally, discourages the practice of holding undisclosed meetings among elected officials. Whether or not this would apply to the group's own agenda, which was written up in an unannounced meeting, remains to be seen.

As reported by the Los Angeles Daily News, the agenda for the first meeting had to be overhauled at the last minute, as it was revealed that the original agenda allocated no time for public comments; instead, members of the public would be ushered into small groups to mull over their concerns. The rest of the agenda included presentations by regulators, as well as a section in which elected officials would get to address the panel of regulators. This, unsurprisingly, did not sit well with some residents.

Pakucko told the Daily News that the proposed mini-meetings were isolated "therapy groups" that did nothing to communicate the public's concern to the regulators. “We don’t need [these small group meetings] at all. We want them to hear the safety concerns and the health concerns that the public have. We’re not standing for that,” said Pakucko.

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The 2015 gas leak at the Aliso gas field is regarded as one of the worst natural gas leaks in the nation's history. It would take four months until the leak was properly shut off, and this didn't come until after a massive amount of gas was released. The leak was reported to have sent 50,000 kilograms of methane into the air per hour, which accounted for 25% of the state's methane emissions during that four-month period. In early 2016, when the leak was still ongoing, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. While methane itself isn't considered toxic, it may be poisonous when mixed with other chemicals, and people commonly report experiencing headaches, nausea, and other discomforts after inhaling methane.

In April, SoCal gas reported another gas leak in the Aliso Canyon area.

As noted at CBS 2, the area is also a former oil field, and less than a third of its 113 wells have passed inspections after the leak incident.

In September, the County District Attorney's office said that SoCal Gas had not reported the 2015 leak in a timely fashion, and the company was forced to pay $4 million. Part of the money came as a fine, while other portions of it were devoted to installing safety precautions at the Aliso site.

We've reached out to Pakucko to ask about the agenda that his group has devised for tonight's meeting, as well as SoCal Gas to ask if they would be changing their plans for the meeting. Neither party was immediately available for comment.

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[Update 4:33 p.m.]: Chris Gilbride, a spokesperson for SoCal Gas, told LAist via email that, "Aliso Canyon has undergone comprehensive testing and physical changes. We’ve also introduced new processes and monitoring systems that provide additional layers of safety." He added that, "The field is safe and we hope attendees have an opportunity to learn about the comprehensive safety review process.”