BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Cesar Aguirre, of the Central California Environmental Justice Network, received pictures from two Arvin residents showing white vehicles in front of an oil well. It turns out the oil well was being inspected for a possible gas leak.
The pictures showed white vehicles in front of an oil well, feet away from homes. The cars belonged to the California Geological Energy Management division, along with the California air resources board and the San Joaquin Valley Air District.
“So it turns out the state had sent multiple agencies to do inspections at wells within 3,200 feet from homes. It turns out 40% of the wells that they inspected, which was over 60 of them, had leaks, many of them had explosive levels. This is one of those wells,” Cesar Aguirre with the Central California Environmental Justice Network said.
According to a summary of the inspection findings, 16 of the 27 leaks have been fixed by operators.
But responsible operators for the remaining 11 wells said they don’t plan to fix the leaks. And they may not have to.
“Here locally and around Kern County, there’s a law for the valley air district, that exempts small producers from having to follow any of the air mitigation laws, so basically if you can justify being a very low producing well, then you can say you are exempt from the air district’s laws that are supposed to protect the communities,” Aguirre said.
This has become an increasing concern for residents like Manuel Gonzalez, who has lived in Arvin for more than 30 years.
“We all have family here, so it’s not just about us as individuals but those who surround us,” Gonzalez said.
According to the California Department of Conservation, there is evidence that living near unconventional oil and gas development is associated with adverse perinatal and respiratory outcomes.
Fransisco Gonzalez lives on the same street as one of the wells that has not been fixed and says he’s a victim of these gas leaks.
“I bleed all the time from my nose, especially in the afternoon. My wife only goes outside for maybe 5-10 minutes and has to go inside because she can’t breathe outside. She feels like she’s suffocating,” Fransisco said.
And moving just simply isn’t an option.
“I’m retired. I don’t have the resources to move. And my house is not worth nothing because if somebody wants to buy it, and they find out about this, you’re not going to buy it.”
CalGEM is working on an emergency contract to have the remaining 11 wells fixed as soon as possible.