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California has five nuclear waste sites that are no longer active due to meltdowns;  San Onofre which sits on a beach between LA and San Diego and is frequented by tourists, Rancho Seco south of Sacramento, Humboldt Bay in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.

California Wildfires: Land Management?

California is being devastated by fires once again, one destroying the entire town of Paradise, destroying homes, cars, and killing 25 people, a second fire rages in southern California northwest of LA causing multiple homes to burn in affluent Malibu and Oak Park.  A third fire has erupted in Ventura County.   They are truly a catastrophic perpetuation of California’s human and economic toll!

While wind speeds topping 55 mph have fueled the fires and rapidly propelled them leaving little time to evacuate, the cause of the fires has yet to be officially determined.   Dry, brittle groundcover, and winds have said to be the catalyst.

Within the devastation a fight is brewing regarding land management and fire prevention management. While the IAFF, International Association of Firefighters and the California Professional Firefighters Union have called out Trump’s comment that poor management has led to the devastation, there are facts that have been liberally manipulated to serve a purpose.

1)   Yes the Federal government is tasked with managing  a portion of California’s land, that land includes national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. It does not include towns, cities, and metropolitan areas.

2)  While the IAFF stated that percentage of Federal land in California tops 60%, that is incorrect, it is 45.8% – a statistic they should know…

2)   Governor Jerry Brown has done little to nothing to mitigate the constant drought issues that plague California creating a continuum of environmental risk.

3)   FIREPAC, through the IAFF is among the top 1% largest PAC’s in the US, it is affiliated with the AFL-CIO whose efforts are predominantly political lobbying. They did NOT support Trump’s election.

4)  The president of IAFF is Harold Schaitberger who is also a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council created March 2002 by Executive Order.  Council Members of HSCA include Bill Brattan, a Democrat, appointed by Obama.  A former NYC Police Commissioner appointed by Bill De-Blasio, he is also Co-Chair on the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel, formed as an adjunct to HSCA by Obama in 2014.

Unfortunately, the California fire situation is political.

According to the UN regarding Fire Management:   “From an assessment of megafires it was concluded that the main contributing elements of these wildfires are drought, fire meteorology, accumulation of fuel and homogenous or fire prone landscapes, which are often caused by lack of appropriate land management. 

Preventive landscape management is therefore needed and should include policy, cultural, technical, social, financial, organizational, economical and market aspects. 

For instance, large homogeneous forests and housing areas shouldn’t be established in regions with fire-prone vegetation, but different land uses should be combined to maintain mosaic features in the landscape with natural firebreaks.

Special attention should be paid to timing of certain agricultural activities e.g agricultural burning should take place before the dry season and before the surrounding landscapes turn fire-prone. Burning should also be avoided during the high winds and hottest time of the day. At the same time alternatives for agriculture fires might be developed.

Local populations should be involved through participatory and/or community based approaches because they are often main actors in landscape management activities, they suffer directly from the fires which threaten their livelihoods and might also be involved in some of the fire causes.”

Bottom line – Land Management within towns, cities and communities should include drought control and landscape features including natural firebreaks.

Is improper land management the fault of firefighters?  NO. But Trump never attributed such claims.  So why would Unions associated with Firefighters even enter the dialogue? Politics.

California is host to roughly 4,000 to 9,000 fires every year!  In 2007 and 2008 over 1.5million acres were scorched.

In 2017, California’s wildfires cost $180 billion.  California’s fire budget is $442million.  The remainder of the cost, $179,558,000,000, is paid for by taxpayers outside of California through Federal funds and increased insurance premiums.  California’s budget covered .2% of the cost.

California has been in the midst of one of the longest droughts in history lasting since December 2011 and continuing according to the US Bureau despite Gov Brown declaring it had ended in 2016.

Over 95% of fires are human caused, including intentional and negligence.

 

  • January 2017, Governor Jerry Brown released his state Budget which included: Emergency drought spending. While recent rains have drenched California, the governor’s emergency drought declaration is still in effect, and the new budget appropriates an additional $188 million in one-time resources for drought relief. Roughly half ($91 million) is allocated to CAL FIRE—the agency dedicated to fire protection and stewardship of the state’s forests—to enhance its firefighting capacities and support the removal of dead trees. The drought has contributed to widespread tree mortality, which has raised concerns that the dead trees might fuel future destructive wildfires.

And what happened to the torrential rains that drenched California?  The water evaporated unable to saturate the dry soil, there were no reservoir projects to capture the rain, and runoff spilled into the Pacific Ocean.

 

          Governor’s Budget Summary:   Based on aerial surveys, it is estimated over 102 million trees have died as a result of the drought and the effects of bark beetle infestation. In 2016 alone, it is estimated 62 million trees died and millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years. These dead and dying trees make forests more susceptible to destructive wild res and pose public safety risks from falling trees for residents and infrastructure in rural, forested communities. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has identified high hazard zones within counties suffering tree mortality.

In October 2015, the Governor issued an emergency declaration directing state and local entities, as well as utilities, to remove dead and dying trees that threaten power lines, roads, structures, and critical community infrastructure.

The Tree Mortality Task Force continues to evaluate the most effective ways to
utilize existing resources to maximize the state and local response to the effects of tree mortality. These efforts include utilizing CAL FIRE equipment and personnel including foresters, hand crews, engine companies, and heavy equipment operators for hazardous tree removal and fuels reduction efforts.

In December 2016, CAL FIRE awarded $15.8 million in grants for a total of 107 projects across 34 counties to support local efforts to remove dead and dying trees that pose
a threat to public health and safety and projects that reduce the threat of wild res
to homes.  Butte County, where Paradise, is located received roughly $600,000, and Ventura County about $200,000.

In other words, Trump is correct.  California has done little to mitigate what the UN, CAL FIRE, and Governor Brown have declared to be the causal factor of these massive fires – land management.  The proof – to date there have been 7,579 Wildfires throughout California and two months left to go.

California Drought – All The Leaves Are Brown

I have such a hard time listening to the plague of drought that is decimating California. I have a hard time, not just because it is happening, but because it has happened for centuries. California has experienced devastating droughts historically that at times lasted decades. We know this. It is common knowledge. And yet, the real problem is that they have never done one lick to anticipate and fix the ongoing issue. Nothing.

Is it the fault of the people, the homeowners, the farmers? No! They do what they can under the guidance and supervision of – the government. Do they use too much water? Maybe. Is water usage inefficient? Yes – a resounding yes! But it is the JOB of the government to regulate and anticipate and do what is necessary to protect the state and the people from a disaster. They want this job, they get paid for this job – now do it!

California has a history of droughts dating back to 850 A.D. (the earliest recording) in which two droughts lasted 180 and 240 years respectively! Given their were not fossil fuels or ozone depletion or carbon releasing industries polluting the atmosphere during these historical times, it is safe to say these droughts were persistent without blaming ‘climate change’. And in the last 1000 years, 10-20 year droughts have been documented as rather ‘typical’ of the state/area.

And that’s the true problem. Droughts have gone on and on and governors have ignored them – for centuries. Have they built more storage? No. More underground reservoirs? No. Have they built desalinization plants? No. Do they still allocate water to farms that grow nothing? Yes. Do they require lawns to be drought tolerant or rock gardens? No. Half of individual water use is for lawns. But 80% of the water is used for agriculture. For rice paddies in desert land. For growing water absorbing Alfalfa which is mostly exported to China. Almond trees consume 10% of ALL water use – that’s NUTS! And yet they are preserving these cash crops – for hopes of greater $$$ – to the decimation of lower crop values like vegetables. Add to the fray that 60% of almonds are an export crop, its just not practical. Its not about what is best or right – it is about what is going to make me the most money in the quickest time and allow me to high-tail it outa here jack mentality!

So what are farmers doing to make it better? They’re digging deeper and deeper wells, more and more wells, sapping up every last dribble of water that they can without concern for the longer term consequences. And no one is stopping them. In some over-pumped areas, the ground has actually sunk a few dozen feet.

And now California’s government is running around like Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling – when in fact, it already fell. And they have done – nothing!

They take water from Colorado, and run garden hoses to clean debris from their driveway! Grab a broom people! Interesting that Hollywood is silent. How are their expansive gardens doing? Their manicured, lush green? Not a word. So I took the opportunity to see the homes of some of Hollywood’s most famous via ‘google earth’ and was completely – not shocked – to find that they are lush and green. Swimming pools were filled, and lawns were pristine.

So while livelihoods are decimated, Hollywood is immune. In fact, they would seem to believe that they are ‘above’ the plights of the commoner peasant, and they can do whatever they want despite the devastating predicament. Some of the more flagrant decriers of self importance include: Lopez, Kardashian, Streisand, Hefner and West. They would appear to be of the mind that the drought simply does not apply to them and the fine is too ludicrously low to dent their importance. Where are the Hollywood environmentalists; DiCaprio, Redford, Theron, Hanks, Pitt? Well their homes look pretty fine according to Google Earth.

In fact, one water district, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which includes many celebrity palaces, states that 70% of their allotment goes to watering just 100 of the posh estates. And while Kardashian gushes that she is a conservationist washing her hair only every five days, she is using thousands of gallons for everything else… Hello?

So where is the Hollywood agenda? The outcry? The action to resolve and create a new, better California equipped to handle any drought that will again wreak havoc in the future? They are silent, because their hypocritical agenda is about talking – not ‘acting’.

The weather media is now claiming that an el-nino will affect California this coming winter with heavy rains. Do you think the folks will simply forget and the government will continue non-business as usual? Of course, always worked in the past.  And if the rains come this winter, well the entire drought will be forgotten and archived.  Until the next time…