Laying the Groundwork
A widespread effort to achieve environmental justice in Sacramento is gaining momentum
By Sena Christian for Comstock's Magazine
"In 2008, Nailah Pope-Harden had her hands full. Then 20 years old, she was attending Sacramento City College and working as a massage therapist when she learned that a group of investors proposed to inject and store 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas underneath about 700 homes, dozens of businesses and a park in her community in southeastern Sacramento.
The community sits atop Florin Gas Field, a natural gas reservoir roughly 3,800 feet below ground that Procter & Gamble and other companies had extracted gas from until depleting its supply in 1987. To many residents in her Glen Elder neighborhood and other nearby neighborhoods, the investors’ offer sounded good: Sacramento Natural Gas Storage would pay landowners to lease their underground property rights to store the gas, which the company would then withdraw and sell to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and other big customers.
Hundreds of homeowners quickly agreed. But a draft environmental review found this type of facility posed a risk for fire, explosion and groundwater contamination, and residents, including Pope-Harden, started talking to one another about these threats and persuaded two law firms to take their case pro bono. On July 12, 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 against the project, with one commissioner noting that never before had they approved a gas-storage project in such a densely populated urban neighborhood."