The opinions presented in this article represent those of the nine-member editorial board of The Standard, first published on Feb. 28. The Standard is the school newspaper of Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif.
The recent reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility at a third of initial capacity has also reopened a bout of controversy, as citizens demand permanent shutdown. In Chatsworth, right next to Porter Ranch, Sierra Canyon students had a front-row seat throughout the crisis, and therefore gained a more personal understanding of the disaster than much of the rest of the country.
At The Standard, the editorial board believes that with Aliso permanently closed, California can get one step closer to its green energy potential— a goal that just might be reached by an environmentally activist younger generation, especially if it includes those with an intimate knowledge of the dangers of going to school next to a ticking time bomb.
Transition to renewable sources is difficult, of course, but it may be that no state is more equipped— with California having become the first state to get more than five percent of its energy from solar power in 2014. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that California is the national leader in solar, geothermal, and biomass energy, and fourth in hydroelectric and wind energy.
Sharon McNary, a political reporter for Southern California Public Radio, reports that environmentalists have called Los Angeles natural gas use prior to the leak “undisciplined.” When ordering their daily natural gas, major consumers in the Los Angeles area (like refineries and power plants) would frequently order more or less than they needed. SoCalGas would bring this gas from the production site via pipeline, often over long distances.
According to the U.S. EIA, California produces only about 10 percent of its natural gas demand. With excess gas that had to be quickly stored, or additional gas that had to be quickly provided, SoCalGas needed storage facilities in the Los Angeles area, Aliso being the largest of four. But, Aliso is one of only about 400 such facilities in the country; other areas do not have this luxury. In short, before the leak, natural gas was being put into and taken out of Aliso more often than it needed to be, all because consumers couldn’t be bothered with precision.
Last summer, state experts had predicted about 14 days of power outages with Aliso completely closed. To prevent this, McNary writes that the state told large consumers to be more precise about how much gas they ordered daily, which they complied with.
The California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission gave local power plants 18 extra steps to further save energy, and the state also encouraged utilities to increase their energy-storing capacity; and to use cleaner sources, including hydroelectric dams.
The resulting lack of blackouts that summer has been cited by groups like Consumer Watchdog, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Food & Water Watch as a sign that Aliso can be shut down permanently without damaging the area’s energy supply. A part of this success can be attributed to the fact that it was a cool summer, but the impact of cooperation in moving Los Angeles away from Aliso and toward cleaner sources cannot be denied.
The case for closing the site permanently becomes even stronger when one considers that no one even knows exactly why the leak occurred in the first place– and who knows when that can be determined? All the measures SoCalGas has taken to prevent another disaster have no guarantee of success. Reopening in any capacity is too big a risk to take.
Ultimately, Aliso needs Los Angeles more than Los Angeles needs Aliso. What Angelenos do need is to work together, but not just to prevent power outages. The cooperation displayed in preventing the summer blackouts is the most important assurance that, if we can keep Aliso permanently closed, we can not only escape energy shortages, but ultimately help the environment with cleaner and more sustainable sources of power. This opportunity makes the involvement of the younger generation especially crucial; and, as firsthand witnesses, Sierra Canyon students have a special place among them.