Number Of Oil Wells Leaking Methane Near California Homes Climbs To 21

By Janet Wilson, THE DESERT SUN

June 2, 2022

A total of 21 oil wells have been found to be leaking methane in or near two Bakersfield neighborhoods, and more than two dozen are being tested by state and regional air regulators.

California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, said in an update on its website that state and regional air regulators are in the area again today to interview residents and take additional methane readings. 

Repairs are at various stages for the nearly two dozen wells, several of which were found to be leaking at least 50,000 parts per million of methane — a level at which the colorless, odorless gas can explode if ignited. 

Six wells owned by Sunray near the Morning Star neighborhood were tested again on Wednesday and are no longer leaking after a contractor hired by CalGEM temporarily plugged them.

Work continues on seven idle wells operated by Zynergy in the same area. CalGEM inspectors confirmed that four of the wells are repaired and no longer leaking methane. Contractors are on site Thursday to work on the remaining three wells. 

A state staffer told The Desert Sun last week that California’s top oil regulator was “lying” about the level of risks at the sites, and said methane can build up underground in tight spaces and explode also. Since then, CalGEM announced it was installing pressure monitors on at least some of the wells as they are repaired or closed off.

CalGEM continues its inspection efforts for the 25 wells owned by Griffin Resources. One well that was hissing and emitting high levels of methane over Memorial Day weekend was safely depressurized on May 30. The agency 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 17 others. Sunray has also appealed a CalGEM order to address problems at five oil fields across central California, saying in a letter that it has addressed many of the problems.

Idled wells are a burgeoning problem in California’s century-old oil fields. A state study concluded two years ago that taxpayers could be saddled with more than $1 billion in cleanup costs if operators walk away from their responsibilities to properly plug and abandon them.

report released Thursday by a consume advocacy group and a coalition of environmental justice groups concludes costs associated with the industry to the state could top $10 trillion by 2045. Industry advocates say locally produced oil is vital, and is done under some of the strictest regulations in the world.

Janet Wilson is senior environment reporter for The Desert Sun, and co-authors USA Today’s Climate Point newsletter. She can be reached at [email protected] or @janetwilson66 on Twitter