By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> UntitledBERNARD ENDRES
It’s hard not to like Bernie Endres (see "The Belmont Site Cannot Be Made Safe"). The 64-year-old engineer delivers insights regarding oil fields with a patience, congeniality and professorial air that’s both appealing and persuasive. Besides, Bernie Endres is one of the "good guys," someone who opposes rich developers and helps environmentalists without asking anything in return. And when it comes to oil fields and methane gas and soil toxins, he obviously knows what he’s talking about.
Or does he?
An engineer with a law degree and a correspondence-course Ph.D, Bernard Endres is a hero of this city’s extreme anti- set: anti-Belmont, anti-Playa Vista, anti-oil company. A mainstay at press conferences and public hearings, he’s become nothing less than the voice of scientific authority for environmentalists fighting Playa Vista as well as opponents of the Belmont Learning Complex project, who insist that the half-built school would never be safe because of toxic and explosive gases.
His admirers regard him like an oracle; he is undeniably knowledgeable. One methane specialist said he respected Endres even though he disagrees with him about Belmont. Another methane specialist, however, dismissed Endres as an opportunistic bomb-thrower operating under the color of expertise.
The Belmont school site, says Endres, is geologically unique – perhaps in all the world. He calls the Belmont site an "outcrop" where oil deposits from underground seep to the surface. Putting a school there "would be equivalent to trying to build something over Old Faithful," he told the Weeklyduring a series of interviews, because crude oil and dangerous gases from below would perpetually push toward the surface.
That’s a powerful argument. If Endres is right, it’s end of story for Belmont. No sane public official ought to consider opening a school there. But Endres has no proof for this theory that is accepted by authorities contacted by the Weekly. His views are not shared by the state’s Division of Oil and Gas, nor the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which agreed to oversee safety measures at Belmont.
Nor is the Endres’ analysis accepted by professional engineers who design safety systems for the hundreds of Southern California buildings constructed on oil fields. Endres has never installed nor designed a methane-control system. Of course, the engineers who actually do this work are hired by developers or public entities that want to build things, which influences their "can-do" perspective. But it’s striking that the Weekly could find no professional in the field who agreed with Endres. Some said that making Belmont safe would be easy; others characterized the task as more challenging, but still straightforward.
And yet to sustain his argument against finishing Belmont on safety grounds, Endres must be right about the uniqueness of Belmont; otherwise, the numerous other schools built over oil fields also would be endangering students’ lives. But Endres has not talked up the hazards of other schools.
Whatever the case, pundits and policy makers who want to believe Endres have no trouble believing. Endres has twice been lauded in anti-Playa Vista columns by New Times columnist Jill Stewart. Assemblyman Scott Wildman forwarded Endres’ findings to state officials. Former state senator Tom Hayden and county Supervisor Mike Antonovich shared the dais at a press conference with him. And Endres’ theories about Belmont’s uniqueness have been parroted without close scrutiny by editorial writers and reporters for the Daily News, by former legislative staffer Bryan Steele (who wrote a book about Belmont) and even by school-board member Julie Korenstein.
Endres is certain that a safety system could never work at the half-finished Belmont school because crude oil and water would clog it, and because hydrogen sulfide would combine with water to form sulfuric acid that would corrode any system. And once something started to go wrong, "then there’s no way to repair it other than tearing down the building." He added: "All it would take would be one penetration and the gas would flow into the building in a very concentrated form." He also asserts that the mere presence of hydrogen sulfide gas (which is toxic) disqualifies the site for school use.
Endres has been credited with a variety of credentials for being qualified to make such claims. Columnist Stewart called Endres a "scientist." The Daily News variously has referred to Endres as a "gas-mitigation expert," a "petroleum engineer," a "petroleum engineering expert" and a "petroleum scientist."
More specifically, Endres graduated magna cum laude from the University of Detroit in Aeronautical Engineering. He earned a master’s degree in engineering and mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1963, and a law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. Endres was admitted to the California Bar in 1979. His Ph.D. in Systems Safety Engineering is from Pacific Western University, a school that furnishes degrees through correspondence courses. Endres has co-authored oil-field-related articles to trade journals and to a published anthology.
Endres was hired in the late 1980s as an expert in a lawsuit against McFarland Energy after the 1985 Fairfax District methane explosion – which injured about two dozen people. On behalf of the litigants, Endres accused McFarland of causing the explosion through unsafe oil-drilling practices. McFarland hired its own experts who attributed the blast to other causes. McFarland settled the case without an admission of guilt.
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