While others demonstrated below, a pair of climate activists in San Francisco on Tuesday scaled the headquarters of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to protest the regulatory body's failure to adequately address the danger posed by underground natural gas storage facilities in the state.
Highlighted by the nearly four-month leak at the natural gas facility run by SoCalGas company at Aliso Canyon near the town of Porter Ranch, the group of campaigners outside the PUC building—in addition to the two who scaled its front and dropped a large banner above the entrance—say that failure to properly monitor such sites is both a risk to local residents as well as the planet due to the clear climate impacts of gas and oil drilling.
Those on the ground held signs reading, "Natural Gas Hurts Communities" and "Stop Climate Change: Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground," while the the larger banner hung from the building said, "Natural Gas Leaks: Shut It All Down" in large black letters.
"It is unconscionable that these regulators are putting people at risk while giving companies a pass," said Kelsey Baker, from Occupy San Francisco Environmental Justice and one of the two people currently occupying the ledge.
The dramatic protest was scheduled to coincide with the arrival of U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in southern California where he is scheduled to tour the Aliso Canyon facility later on Tuesday. Since the leak began in October, an estimated 96,000 metric tons of methane have escaped into the atmosphere, leaving many area residents sick and forcing thousands from their homes.
Even though SoCalGas has now claimed it has stopped the leak at the Aliso Canyon site, one of a dozen such facilities in the states, the demonstrators say the fact that this particular operation had not faced a major inspection since 1976 proves just how sparsely regulated the gas industry is by the state.
“While plugging the leak at Aliso Canyon has been a good step, today we are demanding that the PUC shut down all gas storage facilities," said Christy Tennery-Spalding from Diablo Rising Tide, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Rising Tide North America. "Until they do," she said, "we are occupying the PUC."