From Rays to Resilience: Solar Power’s Vital Role in Earthquake Safety

By Andrea León-Grossmann

This October 19, as millions of people worldwide participate in earthquake drills for International ShakeOut Day, Californians are reminded of the sobering truth: a looming threat and opportunity for change remains alarmingly under the radar. While the state diligently focuses on building resilient structures to withstand seismic events, the perilous dangers of dirty energy sources threaten to unleash a silent storm with the potential to harm the most vulnerable. Our legislators must prepare for all monumental perils, including responding to dirty energy and climate change. 

One stark example of the dangers posed by fossil fuels was from the 2015 gas blowout at SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility. This was the largest blowout in the nation’s history, with the contamination still lingering, poisoning those living in the San Fernando Valley and raising questions about the safety of similar facilities across the state. Despite warnings dating back to July 2017 by a former SoCalGas manager about the potential “catastrophic loss of life” in the event of a major earthquake, little action was taken to mitigate the risk. Now, our false reliance on fossil fuels poses an additional risk to our safety should a large earthquake hit California. We need our decision-makers to consider this possibility when preparing for the Great Shakedown.  

Alarming as it is, Aliso Canyon is just the tip of the iceberg. SoCalGas, which is the nation’s largest methane gas distribution utility, operates another older and even more dangerous gas storage facility in Playa del Rey, adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport and the Hyperion Water Treatment plant. This facility, which is essentially a field of depleted oil wells repurposed to store gas, tends to leak when pressure builds, releasing an oily mist filled with dangerous substances like benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and other carcinogens. The dangers posed prior to and during an earthquake could be disastrous. 

To add to the growing list of concerns, SoCalGas is aggressively pushing for the construction of a hydrogen hub in Los Angeles, with the possibility of storing hydrogen at its gas storage facilities. Hydrogen, being smaller and more explosive than methane, poses an even greater threat to public safety. Our legislators cannot allow for the building of another combustible fuel plant that could harm communities near the plant during a natural disaster.

It’s high time that our legislators and regulators take a stand to protect Californians beyond just climate concerns. Clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power have proven not to harm or endanger lives during natural disasters. They do not hinder the efforts of first responders, who are often forced to halt rescue operations when gas leaks are detected in the aftermath of disasters. While many may have a false sense of security, believing that shutoff valves will prevent explosions and contain the danger, the truth is that gas will continue to flow through the massive pipeline infrastructure across the state, putting everyone in its path at risk.

The time for action is now. We must swiftly transition to 100% renewable energy sources, not only for a livable climate but to ensure the health and safety of Californians during natural disasters. A “shakeout” should not translate into a “blowout.” After all, the only pipeline that doesn’t leak is the one that is never built. It’s time to put the safety and well-being of Californians first and leave the dirty energy past behind for good.

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