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Sunday, Oct 2, 2022
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SPECIAL REPORT: Clearing Air

More than 2,200 Porter Ranch residents have been temporarily relocated, hundreds have reported severe headaches and nosebleeds and a handful of lawsuits have been filed against Southern California Gas Co. – all in response to the Aliso Canyon storage facility gas leak. Leading the way on legal action against the utility is R. Rex Parris, mayor of Lancaster and chief executive of R. Rex Parris Law Firm in Lancaster. Parris’ firm filed a class-action suit against SoCal Gas in early December, and is simultaneously working with residents to bring personal injury claims against the company in hopes of recovering damages for homeowners on an individual basis. Title: Mayor of Lancaster; chief executive of R. Rex Parris Law Firm Born: 1952; Palmdale. Education: B.A., law and society, UC Santa Barbara; J.D., Southwestern Law School. Personal: Lives in Lancaster with wife, Carrol. The gas leak was discovered by SoCal Gas on Oct. 23. Since then, the company has worked alongside city officials and state regulators to try and seal the leak. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health and other regulatory agencies maintain that the measured levels of chemicals inhaled from the gal leak pose no significant health risks to residents at this time. Still, Parris strongly opposes these results and thinks that the leak has put residents both physically and financially at risk. Before recruiting new clients at a homeowners meeting Dec.17 at Shepherd of the Hills church in Porter Ranch, Parris took time to meet with the Business Journal to discuss the gas leak and the lawsuits his firm is bringing against SoCal Gas and parent company Sempra Energy. Question: What’s your opinion about Southern California Gas Co.’s handling of the Aliso Canyon gas leak so far? Answer: Deplorably. What they’re doing is treating it as a PR problem rather than something that is having devastating effects on the families that are living here. An example of that is they’ve clearly been ordered to relocate these people. So what do they do? They put ads out saying they’ve relocated people to the Four Seasons. Well, the Four Seasons isn’t relocating people. The Four Seasons is still a gilded cage; you can’t put a family of four in two rooms for very long and (think that is) a suitable alternative. What financial-physical losses would you say Porter Ranch residents are experiencing? The immediate loss is just getting their families out and then driving back and forth and the expenses that come with that. Not being able to eat in your own home, medical expenses – these things accrue. These are hard-working families that have been able to buy these beautiful homes out here, and this is their biggest investment. And it’s not going to be worth nearly what it should be worth when this is over unless they close that gas storage. SoCal Gas said this leak will take a few months to fix. How do you feel about this estimate? It’s going to take three or four months to plug this well. They like to call it a leak but it is not a leak. This is a blowout. That thing is pouring gas into the environment. In fact, there has never been a blowout of a gas well this catastrophic in a populated area in recorded history. So when they talk about how it’s an inconvenience, they’re guessing. Nobody knows how bad this is. SoCal Gas and environmental health assessors have said the leak poses no long-term health risks to residents. What is your take on that? They’re talking about keeping people sick for three to four months and saying there are no long-term health consequences – are they nuts? I mean, what moron came up with that? I saw a lady the other day whose eye was bleeding, and the doctor said it’s because of the irritants in the eye, which are the same things that cause your nose to bleed. You’ve got people bleeding from their noses and eyes, and they’re nauseous and having chronic headaches – where are they coming up with the idea that these are not serious conditions? You know, a really bad case of the flu can kill you and it only lasts a week. Do you believe this leak will present any long-term ailments for Porter Ranch residents in the future? We are a biological system that has to be in balance and when you put it out of balance by being sick for any period of time, parts of that system will collapse. We are talking about children who are developing, and we don’t know what four months of this will do to their development. And we’re talking about people who have health conditions; they can’t afford the burden of this. Their system can’t. SoCal Gas has reimbursement packages to supplement residents’ income and reimburse them for money spent on food, gas, etc. due to the leak. What do you say about such accommodations? They’re putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. There is an incredible amount of price gouging going on now, where you can’t rent comparable housing. What was available yesterday for $4,000 is now $8,000. And the only people I see willing to be accountable are the lowest of elected officials – like City Councilman Mitch Englander. He’s doing a great job. And the school district has stepped up and quit believing this nonsense that it’s OK for kids to be sick. But where’s the governor? Where’s the president? The state and federal regulatory agencies have totally collapsed around these things and are just not there. I guarantee you, if it was their children that were sick, there’d be a different outcome. Your law firm was among the first to sue SoCal Gas and Sempra for the leak. What damages or compensation do these lawsuits seek? We’re fighting on multiple fronts. Previously we had filed the class-action suit, which is to get them to stop using this facility as gas storage so we don’t have another blowout. Right now, what we’re doing here is signing up individual homeowners and families to file their individual suits. SoCal Gas, in conjunction with the State Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and additional regulatory agencies, find that the Aliso Canyon gas leak poses no long-term health risks to Porter Ranch residents. The utility monitors the leak daily, and collectively the agencies maintain that the toxic levels of chemicals released into the air are not harmful. To ensure resident safety, air samples are taken twice a day both at the leak site and within the community. Additional statements from SoCal Gas can be found in the story “In the Hole.” How many homeowners do you estimate will participate in the first personal injury lawsuit? We’d like to see 2,000 people in that room, but we don’t know. Aliso Canyon Storage Facility has more than 100 wells. Why do you think this one blew? This isn’t the first well that’s going to blow, nor is it the first problem that they’ve had up there; they’ve been having problems for years. It seems that they’re viewing being accountable as being insurmountable, because of the enormity of what’s occurred. You have people trying to pass the buck, hide the ball, not being willing to step up and say exactly what happened, why it happened and what could have been done better. Do you think the leak was avoidable? No question in my mind. That well was drilled in 1954, two years after I was born. After 60 years, we start breaking down and the well does, too. It’s a 60-year-old extraction well and they’re putting high-pressured gas into it. Has the leak taken a toll on the business community? Yes. They are all suffering in various degrees, depending on the business. Go over to the Town Center, you don’t see anybody. The real estate people are really suffering, too. Nobody’s buying and people who were in escrow drop out, obviously. People who rent, these houses have become uninhabitable; any leaser who wants to break the lease and leave can. Why hasn’t Sempra Energy stepped up and tried to work with the owners? What will the legacy of this gas leak be? How will it affect oil and gas development in the future? In one respect, I think this leak has awakened people to the dangers of having to drill so deep and having to store this stuff. I think we may turn the corner and realize that the risk to the population is too great to justify doing business as usual if we don’t have to. This is the year that we’re turning the corner on alternative energy. You can now produce electricity with solar panels and you can store that energy. I think that might be the silver lining to this, but it should never have been borne on the backs of these families and should not be on their backs for the next three months. This is a multibillion-dollar company. If they wanted to help these people, they could.

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