The Bakersfield, CA, oil company responsible for a March gas pipeline leak in Arvin forcing the nearly nine-month-long evacuation of three dozen residents, received a notice of violation Dec. 29 for emitting gas from nearby oil storage tanks without a permit.
Three of Petro Capital Resources (PCR) LLC’s four 8,000-gallon light crude oil storage tanks west of Arvin High School at the intersection of Comanche Drive and Varsity Avenue were involved.
Gustavo Aguirre Jr., project coordinator for the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN), made a Dec. 19 report to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District about possible gas emissions coming from the tanks.
KEEN focuses on environmental health problems in Kern County and supports the enforcement of applicable laws. It is a partnership between community members and governmental agencies.
The December report said KEEN used infrared cameras to determine that emissions ended up released into the environment. The air district investigates such complaints and issues violations if warranted.
Air district inspector Alex Haulman wrote in a complaint investigation report when he arrived at the scene that same day he “immediately detected a strong smell reminiscent of gasoline.” He also reported hearing “vapors hissing” from the pressure vacuum relief valve on top of a tank.
The pressure valve is a tight seal that usually only opens when pressure inside reaches an excessive level. It helps reduce air pollution and emissions.
Jeff Williams, PCR’s production manager, told the air district the company has had the area’s lease shut in since March. That increased pressure inside the tanks, raised the fluid level and increased pressure on the well casing, according to the investigation report.
Because of that, PCR had to occasionally open the casing valves to release some pressure. If not, the line could crack the well casing and lead to possible liquid and vapor contamination of surrounding soil.
So, PCR piped gas into the tanks but without the required permit.
“They were trying to do things that in their mind were more safe,” said Seyed Sadredin, executive director for the Air Pollution Control District. “But unfortunately they didn’t get a permit.”
The investigation into the type of gas emitted is ongoing, he said. It could be natural gases and carbons but may also contain some toxic emissions such as benzene.
“So far, the preliminary (estimate) is that the amount of gas is minimal,” Sadredin said.
The tanks in question neighbor the eight evacuated Nelson Court homes that were near PCR’s leaky pipeline.
After that pipeline leak, PCR did submit an application to the air district to install a flare. But after learning the air district would have to publicly notify all residents in the area, the company decided not to pursue the flare, said Sadredin.
The violation issued to PCR could result in fines. The cost will vary based on the extent of the problem, whether it was hazardous and other circumstances, said Jaime Holt, the air district’s spokeswoman.
The report directed PCR to contact the air district’s permitting department to discuss solutions. It was unclear Thursday whether that had occurred.
December’s notice is not PCR’s first violation of air district rules.
In October 2013, the company received two other notices of violation, Holt said, at PCR’s property near Highway 65 and Lerdo Highway north of Bakersfield.
The first was for failing to perform periodic inspections of the components in light oil services and for failing to maintain an inspection log.
The second notice of violation was for storing more volatile liquid than the company’s permit allowed. Subsequently, PCR applied for a permit.