June 19–State oil regulators on Monday rolled out new health and safety rules inspired by a 2014 Arvin gas leak that forced about three dozen people from their homes for more then eight months.
The regulations call for yearly inspections of all active gas pipelines near homes and other occupied buildings. Pipelines that are at least a decade old in such areas will have to undergo mechanical integrity testing every two years, regardless of their size and activity level.
The rules further require oil and gas companies to file plans with the state containing pipeline location information and addressing associated risks. They are to be enforced starting Oct. 1 by California’s primary regulator of petroleum production, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.
“This is another facet of (DOGGR’s) plan to modernize, strengthen (and) improve our oversight of oil and gas production in the state,” the agency’s leader, State Oil and Gas Supervisor Ken Harris, said in a news release.
The rules are the first to address a gap in the state’s oversight of oil and gas operations that became evident after residents of Nelson Court, just off Mahin Drive in Arvin, began complaining of gas smells, headaches and other problems in early 2014.
An assessment by the Kern County Fire Department in March 2014 determined eight houses on the street contained highly explosive levels of gas. Evacuations quickly followed, and the pipeline’s owner paid for some families to live in Bakersfield apartments during an investigation of the leak.
After shutting down the waste gas conduit, owner Petro Capital Resources LLC paid for a health risk assessment that found the pipeline had leaked high levels of at least two toxic chemicals, benzene and naphthalene.
DOGGR said at the time it had never tested the leaky Arvin pipeline because it was less than 4 inches in diameter and, therefore, not the division’s responsibility to regulate. In fact, no government agency was responsible for testing such equipment.
Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, introduced legislation in 2015 that he said would prioritize testing of any oil-related pipeline running near homes or schools. That legislation was the basis of the rules unveiled Monday.
Harris said in Monday’s news release the Arvin incident had “revealed a weakness” in state regulations.
“These new regulations minimize the potential for a similar incident in the future,” he stated. “Ensuring that resources are produced in a manner (that) protects the public and the environment is our top priority.”
John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.
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