Underground Methane – A Ticking Timebomb

By John Davis

The Four Kings and One Queen who call themselves the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission joined forces November 3 to wipe out hundreds of small boat slips, erect private buildings on public parking lots, put a shopping mall on our launch ramp, and allow luxury development on top of an undisclosed, highly pressurized underground methane gas storage field. Only one Commissioner, Esther Sanchez, saw right through the whole fraud and voted no.

The Government planners also failed to report MDR is in a State Seismic Hazard Zone subject to Tsunami, Liquefaction, Subsidence, and Seiche (harbor wave). The existence of an active geologic fault just off the harbor entrance was covered up.  This is shown in the County General Plan but the County suppressed the vital evidence to promote development. Ballona Creek overtopped its banks and flooded the whole area in the 30s. What about 50 and 100 year flood events and the rise of sea level? Did they forget about Mother’s Beach liquefacting in the 1994 Quake?

What were the planners and Commissioners thinking? Was this incompetence, misconduct, or outright negligence? When the public revealed these major environmental concerns at the hearing, almost 100 miles from MDR, the CCC ignored the public safety factor in lock step with its staff, the County, and developers.

When a Local Coastal Plan (LCP) is amended, the Geologic Hazard section of the LCP should be thoroughly updated to avoid placing the public in harm’s way according to the CCC document entitled Managing Coastal Hazards. All Commissioners sign an oath to uphold the Coastal Act. Except for commissioner Sanchez, their collective word is not worth the paper the oath is written on. The Chair of the Coastal Commission, Mary Schallenberger, even jested about the entire process. Perhaps she forgot about the danger of methane explosion and the tsunami that reached Marina del Rey this last spring. Or, more likely, she simply does not care about public safety in the Coastal Zone and chose to follow the money.

While County and Coastal staff emphasized urgency in giving developers an illegal, market-rate foothold in this valuable Federal Project (see U.S. Public Law 780), the matter of the Public Health and Safety was not even discussed by the decision-makers. When I spoke with Deputy Director John Ainsworth at the meeting, he said he did not have the time to propose any update to the hazard section of the LCP.

This outright failure of the CCC can be considered the match that lit the fuse. They chose to please major corporate developers by refusing to consider the clear and present threats to public safety presented by geologic hazards, as the Coastal Act Section 30253 requires. The Commission, which implements the U.S. Coastal Zone Management Act, is required by federal law to investigate geologic hazards as well.

Only Coastal Commissioner Burke remarked upon the methane dangers in the Marina, but he failed to propose any mitigation to reduce or eliminate threats to human health and safety.

Having met with Coastal Commission staff prior to the completion of their staff report and recommendations, I presented evidence to Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth and Planner Al Padilla showing that pressurized methane was now stored below the Marina.
A gas well at Fisherman’s Village, located just feet away from residences, was demonstrated to have 820,000 parts per million by volume of methane 9ft below the ground at the well pad.  The Upper Explosive Level of Methane is 15 parts per million by volume. Methane gas migrates to the surface and may get trapped under buildings. High voltage electrical vaults are attached to the structures. Did the CCC forget the San Bruno and L.A. Ross Dress-for-Less explosions? The well is named Del Rey 10 and is located right next to the harbor.

A gas well at Mariner’s Village, located just feet away from residences, was demonstrated to have 820,000 parts per million by volume of methane 9ft below the ground at the well pad.

Please don’t smoke in Marina del Rey, especially at Mariner’s Village!

Hydrogen Sulfide can be deadly when breathed and affects the young and elderly in small doses. Part of a concrete foundation in Mariner’s Village was replaced because it was destroyed by Hydrogen Sulfide. What can it do to humans?

There is an oil production line and a gas line, which the California Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources diagrams show as being hooked up to Del Rey 10, then running along Via Marina, Admiralty Way, and across the wetlands.

One of the lines leaked about 100 gallons of oil next to the sidewalk in 2004. HAZMAT showed up with a giant pump truck. The LA County Small Craft Harbor Commission has twice promised to follow up on the line’s status but has not. It is currently unknown if these lines are contaminating the soil and groundwater near the newly-approved development because the County and CCC suppressed the evidence from public view, even though the law requires full disclosure.

Currently Sempra Energy Corporation, (The Gas Company), is abandoning Del Rey 10 without letting the residents know a potentially dangerous situation may exist, without notifying the County, and without notifying the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services if it is the responsible party for the gas release. Sempra was the responsible party for the pipeline leak in 2004, but failed to report it as State and Federal law requires.

This stealthy abandonment helps cover the track of the release of deep thermo-genic gases to the surface near densely populated multi-story buildings.

The buildings have no methane protection in place. Other gases such as deadly Hydrogen Sulfide, Benzene, Toluene, and Xylene have all been associated with the Playa del Rey Oilfield. A California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) map from the Safety Branch shows odor, health, and cancer complaints as of 1997. What has happened since? The map also demonstrates well emission complaints, respiratory complaints in the wetlands, and a reported cancer cluster in Playa del Rey. The South side of basin D in the Marina indicates a Hydrogen Sulfide cloud exposure complaint. The map also shows occurrences of problem wells.

Many buildings in the County and the City are located directly over former wells that may be subject to leakage.

When former City Councilperson Cindy Miskowski’s Corporation demolished Deauville Marina, soil/gas samples from the Environmental Impact Report showed extremely high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide at a test site, which remained high through subsequent testing. Their solution was to test a hole somewhere else. So building continued anyway and the Coastal Commission ignored the threat to public safety.

At the Freshwater marsh/retention basin near the bluffs just South of MDR a U-Tube Video demonstrates a methane gusher gurgling up without stopping near the newly constructed Playa Vista public school. The City ignored this potential danger to students and teachers leaving them in the dark. The California Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) produced the video and conducted the testing: http://bit.ly/un6t8R.

The Playa del Rey Field is where Sempra Energy pumped and now stores pressurized methane gas underground. We should think of a huge inner tube full of small holes filling up with air when it is inflated. Now think of the same thing with explosive gas under your residence.

The holes in the storage field in this case are old oil and gas wells, which may not have been properly abandoned, and can leak like straws to the surface, along with faults, and geologic fissures.

Originally the Government operated the underground storage field and it was maintained at reasonable pressures and not under residences.

Private use of the 240-acre storage field was approved by the City of Los Angeles via a Conditional Use Permit for 240 Acres South of Ballona Creek in 1955. Since that time the State has become owner of most of the land.

The Subterranean Gas Storage Field has now expanded beyond its original City of Los Angeles permitted boundary according to the CPUC map. The Gas Company likes to call it a leak. Owing mineral rights is not the same as owning the right to store explosive methane gas under people’s homes!

CD 11 Councilperson Bill Rosendahl was contacted for comment. Staff Attorney Norman Kulla stated to me on November 23 that he would advise the Councilperson not to comment and that the Councilperson would not look into the Conditional Use Permit to determine exactly what it approved and if it was in fact still valid. The 1955 City Plan Case is No. 6162. Rosendahl may be reached at 213-473-7011 if you have any questions about your safety in regard to the underground methane gas storage. But, you should be prepared for him to provide No Comment.

The CPUC map reveals that the methane gas is now stored under residences in Marina del Rey, the Venice Peninsula, and under Playa del Rey. At least the Gas Company has promised not to pressurize the gas over 2400 pounds per square inch under Venice, as that is of any solace to those on living on top. You can also contact the California Public Utilities Commission Safety and Reliability Branch to find out if gas is now stored under your home. 213.576.7000

In February, DOGGR issued an Order to Stop the Gas Company from Injecting Gas, (Order 1008), except for testing because stored gas came to the surface at the facilities wells near Playa del Rey. The geologic formation is perforated by oil and gas wells both active and abandoned.

Grass Roots Coalition, a local non-profit, sued Sempra and the settlement agreement became law. It requires the Gas Company to conduct extensive testing and to alert the public of gas field emissions. Whether the Gas Company is operating under this law is now being questioned.

Nobody wants to admit releasing gas, especially the Gas Company. The State Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are pretending not to smell it even though Commissioner Burke admitted to getting a whiff at the hearing.

This fact should have been disclosed and investigated before new development on a Federal Project was approved. The U.S. Government was not even notified. That is the purpose of Environmental Planning Processes. The Coastal Commission Federal Consistency Staff was not consulted. Without a full picture and proper Agency notification and review, inferior decisions have been made, which endanger the public on public lands, with the full knowledge of the decision makers.

Further Information is available at wearemdr.com.

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