SANTA FE SPRINGS — Local officials did not worry when the state last year designated their city as one of eight high-risk areas in Southern California where testing was needed to see if any abandoned oil and gas wells were leaking.
The officials had suspected a seepage problem years ago and had set up special requirements for venting abandoned oil wells under supervision of the state Division of Oil and Gas.
But the state study found several pockets of potentially explosive methane gas in areas where the city did not expect to find it. As a result, the city may have to impose additional regulations on development in those areas.
George Beaty, environmental management director for Santa Fe Springs, said the city is going to take a closer look at buildings in the affected areas and see if they should have gas monitors or systems to reduce gas concentrations.
Concern Over High Concentrations
"The good news is that there is little development in the oil field areas where the leaks were found. But the high concentrations of soil gases are enough so that we're concerned," Beaty said.
Future developers may have to bear additional costs if the city requires surveys for soil gases or installation of gas barriers and other monitoring systems, he said. Building permits for four proposed developments in the affected areas have been put on hold until the city reviews the state study and decides if it needs to enact new regulations. A report from a consulting firm hired by the city is expected in several weeks.
Fire Chief Robert C. Wilson said fire inspectors will check the safety systems in at least 15 industrial developments near the 14 oil field sites identified as either dangerous or potentially hazardous by the state Division of Oil and Gas.
Researchers, who tested 110 sites in Santa Fe Springs, found seepages of methane gas in 50 spots. Nine sites were defined as potentially hazardous and four as dangerous with methane concentrations of up to 190,000 parts per million.
Gas Accumulations Pose Threat
Methane gas is potentially hazardous at 1,000 parts per million if it is allowed to accumulate in basements or subterranean parking areas, according to the report prepared by GeoScience Analytical Inc. of Simi Valley.
Most of the high concentrations of methane were recorded near a producing oil field between Norwalk and Bloomfield boulevards near Telegraph Road. Beaty said the buildings that may need inspection are on the "fringes" of these oil field areas.
Researchers found only small amounts of the gas in most residential areas, but they did record 1,000 parts per million near Norwalk Boulevard and Lakeland Road. Further studies were recommended by state researchers.
Bill Guerard, a senior engineer with the state's oil and gas division, said the methane found in Santa Fe Springs is mostly in undeveloped oil fields and these gases dissipate in the atmosphere.
Wilson said he did not consider the methane gas situation to be an emergency. "If it was a major problem we (would have) had an incident like in Fairfax where there was an explosion," he said.
Fairfax Blast Injured 22
It was an explosion caused by heavy accumulations of methane gas that injured 22 people in a clothing store in Los Angeles' Fairfax District last year that prompted legislation to look at the methane problem in other industrial areas.
Eight urban areas in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange counties were selected for the study as high-risk areas because they had oil and gas wells that were abandoned before 1930 and had histories of natural oil and gas seepage.
The study found pockets of methane gas in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Brea, Santa Fe Springs, Los Angeles' Fairfax District and in areas west from Chinatown across the Hollywood Freeway.
Oil Fields Probed
Richard Manuel, an operations supervisor with the oil and gas division's Long Beach office, said the study group did not excavate but merely probed the oil field areas to determine the nature of the oil and the extent of contamination.
"We could tell if it was oil-related, but not if it came from a well," he said.
The study group found unexpectedly high levels of methane gas produced by decaying organic materials throughout the urban areas, which likely result from developing of marshland such as was done in Newport Beach and Huntington Park.
Beaty said he couldn't explain where most of these biogenic pockets of methane gas originated, since there is little vegetation in the oil field areas and no trash dumps buried there. He said a consulting firm hired by the city would also study the nature of these gases.