BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It has been a week since 23ABC first brought you the findings of methane gas leaking at explosive levels from idle oil wells near a Bakersfield community. The day after the story aired, the state alerted residents of the leaks and began community forums to address public health concerns.
Poles are used as indicators of where the wells are and in a plot of land next to up-and-coming communities, they're pretty much everywhere. Wednesday inspectors from various state agencies came to Bakersfield to get an updated reading on the methane levels.
Cesar Aguirre the community advocate that first rang the bell on this issue says now they are moving on to looking at wells on the north side of the properties nearby.
"The ones closest to the homes are thankfully at a very minimal to unreadable level, so we are very comfortable making sure those are not leaking anymore"
- READ ALSO: Idle oil wells in Northeast Bakersfield found to be leaking 'explosive levels of methane gas'
Aguirre joined inspectors from the state agencies California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on Wednesday morning to look at those readings. To better understand exactly what they were doing, 23ABC spoke with Todd Sax, the chief of the enforcement division with CARB.
"Methane coming out of wells can also be associated with other gases that come out in lower concentrations, some of which contribute to the formation of smog and some of which can also be toxic."
Sax explains that aside from an environmental concern for greenhouse gasses, some additional gasses can be considered chronic carcinogens.
"We don't want wells leaking in proximity to where people live. The folks in the community have an expectation that they are not impacted by these industrial sources even if they are near their houses, so we are trying to figure that out."
COMMUNITY MEMBERS REACT
The latest readings from the oil wells that were bolted up in the previous week are low, but some community members say this might be too little too late and are still demanding answers.
"My wife has significant health issues. I am not going to say she was running marathons or was in perfect health, but she declined significantly in a short period of time," said resident sot Edward Bradford.
Bradford and his wife have been married for five years. She is originally from Tehachapi and two years ago moved to the community specifically for the mountain view and walking trails that reminded her of home.
"One of the drums was kinda our circle point where we would circle around and come back."
He explains they would frequently take walks around the area near the wells, often seeing kids riding their bikes as well, no one knowing what was going on.
"She should not be having migraines on a regular basis. She should not sleep for 12 hours and wake up tired. I should be able to gently rub her shoulders and not cry in pain. Things of that nature, things that doctors want to attribute to eating better, sleeping better, we have done all that. It is not that."
They have seen three specialists with the only answer being that she has developed fibromyalgia, but Bradford is not convinced so they have decided to just sell their home.
"Sad to put it mildly, but we are relocating to fresher air, and it is 100 percent in hopes of her health."
WHAT OTHER TOXIC GASES MAY BE PRESENT?
Meanwhile, Sax explained methane itself is not necessarily toxic, but the other gasses that come out are.
"Some of those that are toxic, for example, are things like benzyne and stuff like that. They are sort of a chronic carcinogen type thing so that is something we would be concerned about."
And that is why his team was out there Wednesday morning making sure the wells that had been bolted had low readings and looking into the other wells on the north side of the properties, which is good progress for Aguirre who first alarmed the community.
"Having been doing this for a few years, this immediate urgent response is not usual but if this is the new norm then that is the best way going forward. Things are getting done. Things are getting dealt with and the community is involved."
Not only were the state agencies CalGEM, CARB, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District out there but so were private contractors paid by Zynergy, one of the oil companies bolting down their idle wells.
Aguirre also says this is a result of having community voices heard. But the work is just beginning.
"Some of the wells here have issues with the well casings, and the best thing to do would be plug them which is pour cement down as opposed to caping them which is putting metal on top with a pressure gauge. Some of them have to be plugged and abandoned to make sure they don’t leak through the casings and that is the end goal."
State agency CalGEM did not agree to an interview with 23ABC but did put out this statement:
"Representatives from CARB and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District are in the community today and tomorrow to interview residents and take additional methane readings.
Work continues on the idle wells operated by Zynergy, LLC. CalGEM inspectors confirmed that four of the wells are repaired and no longer leaking methane. Contractors are on site today to work on the remaining three wells.
CalGEM continues its inspection efforts for the 25 wells owned by Griffin Resources, LLC. One well was safely depressurized on May 30. CalGEM has identified another well owned by the company showing high pressure readings, and is working to gain access to the site where the well is located. Six other wells are showing low-level methane leaks, and CalGEM is evaluating options to ensure the leaks are quickly fixed. Over the weekend, the company appealed CalGEM’s emergency order to permanently plug and decommission these wells and others (25 wells total)."
Although the focus is on the Morning Star community at the moment, there are idle oil wells all over Kern County. That is why CalGEM has compiled that data and created an online interactive map where you can check if there is one near your home.