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California oil regulator confirms methane leak at idle oil wells in Bakersfield

Nathan Solis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"CalGEM deployed inspectors [Thursday] to evaluate the methane emissions from two long-term idle wells operated by Sunray Petroleum," CalGEM State Oil & Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk said in a statement. "We are coordinating with the operator to ensure the wells are repaired expeditiously. The pinhole-sized leaks have been determined to be minor in nature and do not pose an immediate threat to public health or safety."

A group of environmental advocacy and social justice groups first called attention to the leaks last week. In a letter to CalGEM, the coalition said the readings recorded by the air district showed methane readings of at least 50,000 parts per million from one well and 20,000 parts per million from the second well.

"Methane leakage also indicates that the well may be emitting other harmful chemicals," the group said. "Methane is a super-polluting greenhouse gas more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide. The methane spewing from these wells is contributing to the climate emergency and undercutting the state's greenhouse gas reduction efforts."

CalGEM spokesperson Jacob Roper said, "We have been coordinating with the operator and local first responders to determine the wells do not pose an immediate threat to public health or safety."

Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas Jr., who represents Bakersfield, said in a statement, "I am upset to learn that this dangerous leak is happening in our community. Let's stop the leak and find out who is responsible to fix the problem."

The wells sit off Morningstar Street in northeast Bakersfield and according to state records were last used in the late 1980s and managed by Sunray Petroleum, Inc. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and have more idle wells throughout Kern County. There was no answer at a phone number listed for Sunray Petroleum in Las Vegas.


Earlier this month, CalGEM ordered Sunray Petroleum to plug the wells at the oil field. The court order also required the operator to decommission the production facilities and restore the well sites for 28 idle wells, including the two wells with the methane leaks.

CalGEM says the order was issued because the operator did not pay its idle well fees and have not submitted to a testing compliance plan along with numerous other oilfield-related violations. Sunray Petroleum has appealed the order.

State and local agencies' failure to declare the methane leak an emergency has frustrated local advocacy groups.

Coordinator Kobi Naseck with Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods slammed the state agency's response and the harm he feels the surrounding communities face from the methane leak.


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