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It was the biggest disaster of its kind in U.S. history: More than 100,000 metric tons of methane leaked out of the Aliso Canyon storage facility, displacing thousands of residents from the suburban L.A. neighborhood of Porter Ranch.

Now two candidates are facing off to represent this and other parts of the northwestern San Fernando Valley on the Los Angeles City Council. And money from the fossil fuel industry has become a prickly issue in the race, as tens of thousands of dollars flow to independent committees that the candidates themselves cannot legally control.

Two groups affiliated with the petroleum industry chipped in $20,000 in May for a political action committee that backed John Lee, a former City Hall aide vying for the council seat. Backers of Loraine Lundquist, a college educator and astrophysicist who has made climate change a central issue in her campaign, have made hay of that fact.

“This is a district that experienced a huge environmental catastrophe that threw people out of their homes for months. And that was caused by the fossil fuel industry,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, who has endorsed Lundquist. “If the fossil fuel industry is throwing down in that race, I think that’s a credit to, and a benefit for, Loraine Lundquist.”

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