Underground Gas Storage : Grassroots Coalition 2007 Lawsuit Victory Against Sempra Energy (Southern California Gas Company) in Playa del Rey, CA


Grassroots Coalition believes in open government
and full disclosure of health and safety issues.


2007 Grassroots Coalition Victory against Sempra Energy (Southern California Gas Company) in Playa del Rey. After 7 years of litigation, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a settlement agreement of complaint cases relating to the natural gas storage field owned and operated by Southern California Gas Company in the Playa del Rey area of the City of Los Angeles. To fully understand this Grassroots victory read the full: Sempra Energy "Important Information about Playa del Rey Natural Gas Storage Operations" on our website or read: http://www.saveballona.org/gasoilfields/Sempra.Energy.Playa.del.Rey.natural.gas.storage.operations.pdf

This case set precedent in the state of California for an oil/gas field operator – Sempra Energy (Southern California Gas Company) to notice the public and perform oil/gas field migration testing and monitoring, including subsidence and uplift monitoring – surpassing the requirements of the Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).


Interviewed on air, Loretta Lynch, former President of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), implied that despite warnings from environmentalists about gas explosion hazards beneath the development, big money behind Playa Vista was determined to make it happen. "It was made clear to me that this development (Playa Vista) was going to happen and that no state agency should stand in the way," Lynch said. There was, "an atmosphere of, we don't want to know". Grassroots Coalition President, Patricia McPherson, discovered early reports commissioned by the developers that revealed oilfield chemicals in the soil beneath the development, including high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), a neurotoxin that can cause immediate death at high levels and permanent brain damage at chronic low levels.

Florence Gharibian, EPA's Branch Chief of The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), emphasized on-air that, "Some of the oilfield chemicals are known human carcinogens." Gharibian also characterized the City's own safety study of Playa Vista as "incomplete" and emphasized that important information was omitted. She faults engineers for running gas tests in clean soils, trucked in to cover the contamination. "That," she said, "would obviously not result in accurate readings."

Walt Merschat, a soil gas consultant who worked for the City, confirmed Gharibian's observations and stated that, "I don't think we were getting correct answers."

Bernard Endres, PhD, an oil & gas expert working with McPherson, told NBC that, "under earthquake conditions, the soil could turn to quicksand creating chimneys of migrating gas coming up directly under the buildings." Endres helped win the lawsuit on behalf of those injured in the explosion and oilfield gas fires of the 1985 Ross Dress For Less catastrophe.

Endres has asserted for the past fifteen years that the Playa Vista site is unique, unlike any site in the area: "the danger of explosion from oil field gas migrating up some 300 abandoned and operating oil wells combined with liquefiable soils, high water tables, seismic activity and Playa Vista's close proximity to the Southern California Gas Company's oilfield gas storage operations creates a recipe for disaster."

When approached by NBC the City declined comment. Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Company and Playa Capital LLC, after initially agreeing to do on-camera interviews, gave written responses. Playa Capital LLC responded with a personal attack against McPherson and gave a general statement that the City's safety study was accurate. Southern California Gas Company remarked that none of their storage gas was leaking onto Playa Vista and that, "the storage field remains safe and secure."

Contrary to Southern California Gas Company's and Playa Capital's written response to NBC, Moyer disclosed a recent California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Report obtained by Grassroots that characterized the gas situation at Playa Vista as "a major concern." Most importantly, the report discusses the high probability that storage gas is surfacing in other neighborhoods overlying the Southern California Gas Company storage reservoir area and recommends that the CPUC Safety Branch do a comprehensive study of the reservoir to assess public safety.

Revealing serious malfunctions of safety measures, McPherson and Endres took the NBC crew into an underground parking garage at Playa Vista to document combustible gas moving up through pores in the concrete floor. According to Endres, observing combustible gas bubbling up through water on the garage floor indicates that, "the membrane system that was designed to keep the gas from moving upward, has totally failed." In other words, people living above this parking structure may not be safe.

McPherson and Endres then took the NBC crew to new gas leaks alongside Playa Vista buildings and to an extremely high volume, high pressure gas leak bubbling up through 8 feet of water in the marsh area across Lincoln Blvd. To underscore the highly unpredictable nature of the Playa Vista site, McPherson ignited a gas sample taken in a plastic bag, which flared like a blowtorch.

The City's own experts state on-air that key safety measures don't work. Regarding experimental 50' vent wells, created to outgas the underlying aquifer, the Building & Safety Department's representative states, "the series of 50' vent wells will not work properly in a high water table or in clayey soils or sands which will clog the vent wells."

"Investigation and public hearings should be undertaken immediately to end the controversy over what lies under Playa Vista and to determine what safety measures have and haven't been put into place and what does and doesn't work," says McPherson.

Developers (Playa Capital LLC) of Playa Vista, one of the most ambitious, high-density real estate developments in the country, effectively lobbied the City of Los Angeles and State Legislators for millions of dollars of Mello-Roos and CDLAC tax free bonds to build on top of one of the largest oilfield gas seeps in the world. "It may turn out that millions of dollars of Mello-Roos bonds and CDLAC bonds were improperly issued," stated Jeanette Vosburg, Grassroots Coalition Director of Outreach.

Grassroots won its Appeal for a Subsequent Environmental Impact Review (SEIR) for Phase 1 of Playa Vista.

Grassroots is still engaged in on-going effort through the CPUC to hold Southern California Gas (Sempra Energy) accountable for fulfilling the Settlement Agreement. This includes Gas Migrations Studies and Community Notices when there is an explosion, gas release or other incident.

CONTACT: Grassroots Coalition Patricia McPherson or Jeanette Vosburg, 310-721-3512



2005 Grassroots Coalition Court Victory against Playa Vista and LA City The California Appellate Court vacated the approval of the Playa Vista Phase I Methane Mitigation System and ordered the City to determine whether to perform a Supplemental or Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) according to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Appellate Court agreed with Grassroots Coalition and its co-plaintiffs that the effects of dewatering (removal of water) as part of the methane mitigation measures and the methane mitigation systems ability to perform properly had not been studied. Issues to be studied include cumulative impacts of dewatering; cumulative subsidence and contamination spread, and performance of the 50' vent wells, dewatering as it affects the wetland habitat, recharge rate of the aquifer, salt water intrusion and waste water issues. GC has been instrumental in the creation and changes to the LA CITY METHANE CODE including the Playa Vista Methane Prevention Detection and Monitoring Program – Playa Vista Phase 1.

1997 Grassroots Coalition Belmont Learning Center Complex (BLC). (GC) was instrumental in procuring a Supplement Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) on the BLC proposed site. Working as consultant to Senator Tom Hayden and Assemblyman Wildman, GC provided review and assessment of internal documents alongside gas migration expert Bernard Endres PhD.

GC provided data and information to the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that led to further AQMD investigations of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) oil wells that gave rise to Notices of Violations and ultimately the abandonment of the old leaky LAUSD wells. Community support was garnered for this work by GC.

GC documented and provided proof of outdated and unsafe conditions around multiple wells in the community surrounding the Belmont Learning Center proposed site. Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) subsequently ordered cleanup, fencing and other safety impositions. Outcome was protective of the community and included abandonment of more wells in the area.

1993 Founded Grassroots Coalition (GR) and, in the role of president, leads the fight for full disclosure of health and safety issues related to oil field gases at Playa Vista and the surrounding areas. GR introduced Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) to oilfield gas migration issues in the Ballona Wetlands region. GR asked the City of Los Angeles (City) for an independent peer reviewer from outside California to study oilfield gas migration issues at Playa Vista and the surrounding areas. The City chose Exploration Technologies Inc. / Victor Jones of Texas (ETI).

ETI’s multi-year investigation discovered oilfield gas migration issues and potential dangers stemming from leakage of the Playa del Rey Oilfield, where drilling began in the 1920s, and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) under ground gas storage operations in the Playa del Rey oilfield. The City of Los Angeles - Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety determined that no residential development was to take place over the SoCalGas storage operations. In an attempt to allow for development of the Playa Vista project – adjacent to the SoCalGas oil/gas storage facilities – new and experimental gas mitigation measures were utilized.

1990 Produced Wetlands '90, a 3 day, multi-interactional, educational event that drew over 10,000 people to the Ballona Wetlands.

1989 Started a Wetlands Committee for Sierra Club, Los Angeles Chapter that focused on acquisition and preservation of the Ballona Wetlands. In 2003-4 they were successfully purchased with public funding.

Links for Ballona (Watershed) Menu: