Arvin gas leak may have lasted weeks

Published 03/18 2014 06:35PM

Updated 03/18 2014 06:47PM

ARVIN, CA -- County officials said they've found the source of the leak Tuesday but the potentially-explosive gas remains, in liquid form in the ground.

Kern County Environmental Health officials said they don't know cause of the leak or how long it's been seeping only that the people who live in eight nearby homes are potentially in danger.

Environmental Health said the pipeline was flushed and pumped Tuesday with water to see where a leak may exist. According to officials it was located at Varsity Avenue and Mahin Drive in north Arvin.

"That likely was the source and it is likely has been stopped the problem is that that gas still remains trapped in the soil," said Matt Constantine, Director of Kern County Public Health.

County officials said they were first notified last Wednesday but only confirmed late Monday night the line belongs to Petro Capital Resources. Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it's a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

"Still very dangerous," said Constantine about the gas.

According to the county until the leak, Petro had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

"Apparently they weren't aware the line was in this area," said Constantine.

For this reason, officials said they have no idea how long the line was leaking.

"They're only guesses now but yes it is a concern that he leak went on for sometime but we don't know," said Constantine.

What they do know is the gas has saturated the ground and is slowly evaporating which is why Monday night the county asked people living in eight homes bordering the pipeline leak to voluntarily evacuate. The county said Monday night said seven of those homes had high levels of explosive gas in their backyards.

"Clearly this is not something you want to inhale also because it has or could have health effects short term and long term for repeated exposure," said Constantine.

Yesnia Lara, who lives on Varsity Avenue said she's not leaving.

"They say there's a hazard in my house but they are not offering hospitality so we're not going anywhere," said Lara.

The county says relocation services may be an option in the future but right now they're in clean-up mode vacuuming up gas to make sure the leak isn't lethal.

"Hopefully nothing will happen," said Lara.

The county said it took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

"We spent a couple days probably several days trying to find potential responsible parties that was valuable time that we wasted so yes such a comprehensive list would have been very helpful in this case," said Constantine.

While Petro would not speak on camera they released the following statement from Jeff Williams their production manager:

"We regret the recent gas release in the Northwest Arvin area and are deeply concerned about the impact to the public. As a locally owned mineral producer, we strive to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of the community are at the forefront of our operations. Unfortunately, in this case a leak occurred and, working in concert with County Agencies, we have taken immediate steps to protect the public.

Since discovering the leak, we have flushed the line and permanently removed it from service. We are taking immediate action to remediate the residual gas that is currently trapped in the soil. We are also in the process of taking steps to assist affected residents with temporary housing if needed. We will continue working hand in hand with County Agencies to protect the public."

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