'GasLand' Director: Porter Ranch Leak Is "Worst Environmental Disaster Since BP Oil Spill" (Guest Column)

How to Let Go of the World or 9Things Climate Cant Change Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ahead of his latest film's Sundance premiere, the Oscar-nominated documentarian takes a sobering look at the poisonous methane cloud plaguing the residential area north of Los Angeles.

It’s happened again. The fossil fuel industry has created another catastrophic environmental disaster. Folks are calling this one the worst since the BP Oil Spill. It is so bad, famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich has gotten involved.

Since October, massive amounts of methane have been spewing from a leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility near the Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch.

Thousands of residences have been forced to relocate because they are experiencing nosebleeds, headaches and dizziness.

And the climate impacts of this leak are even worse. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 84 to 100-times more potent of a warming agent than C02 over the next 20 years — the short window of time that we have now to tackle climate change. This one leak is currently California’s biggest contributor to climate change, and it could be months still before the company, SoCalGas, can stop it.

I wish I could say this is an anomaly, but I have seen this story play out in dozens of communities across the country. I’ve seen too many photos of children with nosebleeds or parents with rashes because they live near a fracking well or compressor station. It’s a horror story families in Kern County, Calif., are living every single day, their kids playing near fracking wells that are leaking benzene and methane.

The truth is, the fossil fuel industry is in a constant state of environmental disaster and it’s destroying communities. But those communities are fighting back.

In my new documentary, How To Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, which is in competition at Sundance Film Festival this month and will air on HBO in June, I go to 12 countries on six continents to communities on the front lines of climate change.

They know there’s no compromise when it comes to the health and safety of their families and no compromise when it comes to the short time frame we have left to address climate change, a lesson America’s energy policy has yet to learn.

We all watched the footage of BP’s oil gushing from the sea floor. We saw the Gulf coated with it. We saw the beaches and shorelines caked in it.Yet, President Obama’s administration continues to approve offshore drilling in the Gulf, and is even considering drilling off the Atlantic Coast.

Today, because of infrared cameras we can see the plume of methane spewing from Alico Canyon a thousand feet into the air, across miles of homes.

Yet, governors like Jerry Brown are still supporting fracking in their states. And the industry is currently proposing — and the Obama administration is busy approving — hundreds of power plants, hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines, compressor stations, LNG terminals and other fracked-gas infrastructure across America.

There is no room for expanding fossil fuel development in any sane climate plan. We need 100 percent renewable now.

Luckily, in many of the communities where fossil fuel expansion has been proposed, citizens are way ahead of America’s energy policy. They are organizing to stop the destruction of their communities and leading the way on renewable energy.

After our new film premieres at Sundance this month, we’re taking it on the road to 100 cities and towns on the front lines of the fight against the expansion of fossil fuel development. We’ll be going to communities, ones like Porter Ranch, where families now understand what it’s like to live life on the fossil fuel chopping block.

The fossil fuel industry creates an environmental disaster everyday in communities around the country. Soon or later this will come to your backyard. It may not be in the form of a pipeline or well — but it may come as wildfire or a rising sea.

Climate change has us on the fossil fuel chopping block until we band together and build something better.

To learn more about my new film and our grassroots tour visit www.howtoletgomovie.com or like us on Facebook.

Josh Fox is an environmental activist and the Oscar-nominated director of 2010 documentary GasLand and its Emmy-winning follow-up, Gasland Part II. Lee Ziesche is the grassroots coordinator for Fox's environmental advocacy projects.