On top of school, work, family and friends, CHAMPS junior Jessica Perrine and her family have had to juggle the growing effects of the Porter Ranch gas leak for the past few months.
It all began when a well in the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility began leaking methane into the air on October 23. Though the situation was soon revealed to be catastrophic, even more disastrous than the BP oil spill of 2010, Perrine admits she never anticipated that it would escalate to what it has become.
“My first reaction was that it was going to be something that doesn’t matter. No one could smell gas. No one was talking about it, and I don’t think anyone was getting sick when I first found out. I didn’t think it would be this bad,” Perrine said.
Within days, however, residents in the area reported symptoms ranging from headaches to respiratory problems, proving to be most troubling for a mother who was unaware of the cause. Without knowledge of the gas’ effects, Beberlina Perrine, mother of Jessica Perrine, quickly drew conclusions, assuming the worst had befallen her and her family.
“I thought it was me, getting really sick. I thought it was cancer. It worried me when my daughter came home. Her eyes were red and swollen. We heard on the news what was going on and thought it would go away, but it was getting worse, and the smell was getting worse,” Beberlina Perrine said.
Before long, the family was forced to relocate to a hotel where they have resided for the past few months. While the move has not been ideal, they have admitted that they are thankful for escaping the poor conditions they had to endure at home.
“When we finally left and stepped out of the car, we felt the difference. We felt the air quality. No more stomach pain or vomiting,” she continued.
Although they are now separated from the immediate harm of the gas, living in such close quarters has taken a toll on their lives and put a strain on their relationships.
“I live in a hotel in downtown Burbank. I’ve been there since Thanksgiving. It’s super stressful. There’s nine people in my family and we all had to fit in three rooms. We don’t have a kitchen so we have to eat out or eat microwaveable food. No one has alone time and everyone is always yelling because we don’t have enough space. My cousins keep fighting because they’re stuck in one room together, all the time,” Jessica Perrine said.
While most of their living expenses are being taken care of, it is not enough to compensate for the struggles of having to uproot their lives. On top of 40-minute, weekly commutes back to Porter Ranch for Jessica’s sister’s tutoring and therapy, they also lack basic freedoms that they once possessed prior to the move.
“It’s very inconvenient living in a hotel. The children are not able to play, and they’re on cell phones and computers all the time. They’re not eating well anymore,” Beberlina Perrine said.
Additional health concerns have arisen with her as new information about the leak has become available. Citing the presence of benzene in the gas, she fears what the future may hold. Long-term effects on her children have become a major concern, and her trust in the Southern California Gas Co. has wavered, leaving her doubting their abilities to safely run the facility.
“Even if they say they’ve fixed it, you never know what could happen. What about the rest of the wells?” she said.
Along with the hundreds of protesters who believe the Aliso Canyon facility should be shut down altogether to prevent any more incidents such as this, Beberlina Perrine questions how safe it is for work to continue in the area.
“We absolutely agree that it should all be shut down. They did not follow regulations and something like this could easily happen again,” she said.
In a similar line of thought, Jessica Perrine is critical of the decision to only close the affected well while there are still over a hundred left on site which she believes could also become unstable at any point. With that sort of ever-present uncertainty, she feels that the community is no longer safe.
“My family wants to go back home, but we aren’t sure. I don’t think they’re doing enough with the situation because there are more wells there that are in the same position as the one that broke. I don’t know how they’ll control that though,” she said.
With no sure end in sight, the family has considered relocating permanently, but it is ultimately a difficult decision and not one they have yet been able to make.