Local News

Tuesday, Mar 25 2014 08:42 PM

No record of leaking Arvin pipeline being checked, state says

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Private security watches over the eight homes on Nelson Court in Arvin where a gas leak forced the evacuation of its residents. Mahin Drive (in the foreground) was closed from Varsity Avenue to Nelson Court.

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  2. 2 of 3

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Alejandro Morales, 22, lives with his family on the south side of Nelson Court but did not have to evacuate.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Eva Montoya and her two sons, Jonathan, 12, and Kevin, 2, live one street south of Nelson Court in Arvin where eight homes had to be evacuated because of a gas leak.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

The pipeline that has been leaking toxic gas in a neighborhood near Arvin High School has never been tested for leaks, according to a state agency.

A spokesman for the California Department of Conservation said Tuesday there is no record of the low-pressure pipeline beneath Varsity Road ever being tested.

More than three dozen people in eight homes along Nelson Court were ordered out of their homes eight days ago after the leak was discovered. Testing of the gas has found more than 20 toxins, including the carcinogen benzene, and highly toxic n-hexane.

Resident believe it may have been leaking for as long as two years.

Bakersfield-based Petro Capital Resources LLC, has operated the pipeline since 2012, said the company's production manager Jeff Williams.

Because the leaky pipeline is less than 4 inches in diameter, the company is not required by the DOC's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to test the line.

The low-pressure pipeline moves field gas from oil wells. It is unclear how long gases have been leaking.

"I can't really answer why it went unnoticed," Williams said.

He said PCR operates 35 oil wells in four Kern County fields. Williams said all of the company's pipelines are 3 inches or smaller in diameter. The lines are both above and below surface. With the exception of the Varsity Avenue pipeline, all of PCR's lines are on rural, undeveloped land or undeveloped agricultural land, Williams said.

He did not know the age of the Varsity Avenue pipeline. The gas that flows through it does not have a commercial value and cannot be sold, he said.

The Department of Conservation estimated PCR operates about four miles of oil and gas flow lines in Kern County.

While violations of DOGGR regulations can result in civil penalties, DOC spokesman Don Drysdale said the incident is still under investigation.

PCR submitted a pipeline management plan Tuesday to DOGGR at the agency's request. The management plan includes information on each pipeline, including the type, grade, actual or estimated installation date, the design and operating pressures and any leaks or repairs in the pipeline's history. It also includes testing methods and schedules for the pipelines. DOGGR may make requirements or modifications to the plan based on individual circumstances to ensure that life, health, property and natural resources are being protected adequately.

Advanced GeoEnvironmental Inc., a private company, is installing permanent vapor extraction equipment at the affected homes. A short-term mitigation system is being used to remove gases in the soil.

Samples taken March 18 from a home at 1312 Nelson Court found toxic gas levels 13 times higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. In addition to benzene and n-hexane, traces of methane, heptane and n-octane were found in the home.

According to the EPA, exposure to more than 25 milligrams per cubic meter of toxic gas is dangerous to human health. The sample found at 1312 Nelson Court was 325 milligrams per cubic meter, said Jessica Hendricks, senior program manager for Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit agency that helped take air quality samples.

In the meantime, PCR is housing most of the displaced residents at the Residence Inn Bakersfield and has allotted $50 per day per person for food and expenses.

There is no time frame set for when repairs will be complete. The pipeline has been permanently shut down.

As Eva Montoya, 38, walked around her neighborhood Tuesday with two of her children, she said she worries about their health.

Both she and her 12-year-old son, Jonathan, have asthma.

The Montoya family lives at 1308 Nance St., directly behind Nelson Court.

Firefighters and police told her family last week to be prepared for possible evacuation. But they have not heard from any officials since.

Montoya said she was concerned for her family's safety as she watched her 2-year-old, Kevin, play in a blue plastic car.

"I have too much stress about it," Montoya said.

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