Woolsey Fire: Site of Toxic Waste and Methane Leak

Santa Susana is located in Simi Valley California where a fire erupted recently.  It is also home to the highly controversial Santa Susana Field Laboratory – a nuclear waste facility that has been the topic of cleanup for decades.  I say ‘topic’ because battles continue as to who is responsible for the mess:  PG&E, Boeing, NASA and DOE.

Located 30 miles from downtown LA, the site has been used for the development and testing of liquid propellant rocket engines, nuclear reactors, and liquid metals research.   It is considered considerably contaminated.  It also sits directly on top of some of California’s major fault lines, including the San Andreas, according to a map prepared by California Geological Survey.  The valley was created as a result of tectonic shifts and earthquake action.

The area has been host to horror stories of contaminations, toxicity, deaths, leaks, and meltdowns since 1959.  Yet it still remains.  Radioactive fires, fission gas releases, burn pits, and containment structures that had a ten year life span and not housed with concrete domes.   The meltdown was said to be nearly 460 times that of the Three Mile Island catastrophe in Pennsylvania.

The Woolsey fire is suspected to have begun at the Rocketdyne facility of Simi Valley’s Santa Susan Field Laboratory.   The contamination that was in the soil was thus captured and spread via the fire into the air.  Yet the LA Public Health Department issued a statement that it was ‘safe’.  Nuclear, burn pit and radioactive toxins likely ignited the fire, yet LA says it is safe.

As recently as 2006, the lab was cited for wastewater runoff that had contaminated Bell Creek and the Los Angeles River including, chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury and other pollutants.

In 2007 California passed a bill citing standards for cleanup, the standards are being contested and the cleanup has stalled.

California has five nuclear waste sites that are no longer active due to meltdowns;  San Onofre which sits on a beach between LA and San Diego and is frequented by tourists, Rancho Seco south of Sacramento, Humboldt Bay in Eureka, Vallecitos near Pleasanton, a quaint suburb of San Francisco, and Santa Susana in Simi Valley.   There is one remaining active nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon Power, located near San Louis Obispo – sitting atop the San Andreas Fault along the scenic beaches of California.  It is slated to shut down in 2025 when its license expires.   It currently provides just over 8% of California’s electricity.

Roughly 30% of all California’s electricity is imported, 30% of which had an ‘unspecified origin’.  Natural gas, including one coal fired plant, account for about 43% of their electricity, and renewables about 30%.  Most of the natural gas is imported via pipeline from the Rocky Mountains, Canada and the southwest given the state produces very little and stored in Aliso Canyon Oil Field.

The Aliso Canyon Oil Field is located in the Santa Susana Mountains –

In 2015, a break in the injection well casing caused a methane eruption that spewed 87.5 million tons of combustible methane into the air…   fallout caused 6,000 families to permanently relocate and 10,000 families were given air purification systems courtesy of SoCal Gas – the owner.  It took SoCalGas four months to contain the blowout and plug the leak after 100,000 metric tons of natural gas was released… creating what one might call a ‘fire hazard’ within a toxic cocktail of nuclear waste in Simi Valley’s Santa Susana.

Governor Jerry Brown’s sister, Kathleen Brown, is a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Sempra Energy, which owns the SoCal Gas Aliso Canyon Oil Field

Neither SoCalGas or Sempra incurred any fines for this leak.  Sempra assets are valued over $56 billion.  To date it is estimated the cleanup costs will surpass $1 billion most of which will be covered by insurance.  A settlement agreement for climate cleanup was only reached this past August although it had not yet been approved by the state’s Superior Court.

Meaning – no environmental cleanup had been conducted prior to the Woolsey Fire.

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