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What About the Rest of LA's Active Environmental Disasters?

Rich Porter Ranch got a lot of attention for its gas leak, but it's not the only ongoing environmental disaster in LA

The massive leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field near Porter Ranch took about three and a half months to stop, but in the interim, residents were relocated (at the expense of the gas company) and dozens of lawsuits piled up. That snappy response is in stark contrast to the response Wilmington residents have received to their health and quality of life concerns surrounding the drilling operation going on in their neighborhood "24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays," says the LA Times.

In 2005, Warren E&P Inc., an energy company, was permitted to drill up to 540 wells and "produce up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day" on a Wilmington site surrounded by residences and a baseball field. Neighbors say that in the years since then, they've dealt with water that smelled like rotten eggs (some residents "plugged their noses while showering"), black dust piling up on their cars, gas flaring, sleep disruptions from late-night operations at the drilling site, and, when wells were actively being drilled, shaking so strong it rattled windows and shook pictures from the walls. There were also the oil tankers driving through the streets, making 40 to 60 trips a day; that has only ceased because a pipeline has been built to a nearby refinery.

These residents, like Porter Ranchers, have suffered headaches and nausea as a result of the smells from the site. And Wilmington residents are also "subjected to similar emissions," like benzene, a carcinogen, that Porter Ranchers endured while the leak was flowing (though those living near the Wilmington site also get to deal with chemicals like "hydrochloric acid trucked through and pumped in their neighborhoods," says an attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, which is representing groups who are suing to fight "city approvals of oil drilling in minority neighborhoods." (Which are far, far more likely to see it.)

But their situation is actually completely different, say officials. "'[Porter Ranch] represented much more of an acutely urgent situation' than continual, low-level exposures in other communities," a toxicologist with the LA County Department of Public Health tells the Times. An executive with the South Coast Air Quality Management District feels similarly, saying that it was "not proper" to compare a big, pollutant-spouting leak like Porter Ranch to "periodic releases that occur at an oil field.... They are a different magnitude in scale." (Sounds like Wilmington is a lot bigger?)

Or it might also have to do with the fact that Porter Ranch is a wealthy neighborhood, where residents feel very comfortable making complaints when something is amiss. Wilmington is a working-class area where people might not be so sure of how to make complaints, or feel comfortable engaging with the authorities. The director of USC's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity says that "polluting industries" often choose to move into poorer minority neighborhoods like Wilmington and South LA, where similar complaints from locals about an AllenCo operation have existed for years, because they can anticipate fewer "political hassles."

The operation at the Warren site has been cracked down on in 2008 for violating its gas flare permit, and Warren was given new conditions to follow in the wake of that crackdown. But the city remained supportive of the operation, trotting out the line about reducing dependence on foreign oil at that time. The company did some small things for the community after that, like installing double-paned windows and air filters in some homes, and handing out car wash coupons. But residents' calls for the company to foot the bill for things like water testing and air quality monitoring "went unheeded," and there haven't been any moves to relocate anyone in the neighborhood.