–March 18, 2014
There is nothing surprising about the pipeline leak in Arvin that gave way to a voluntary evacuation of 20 houses. It isn’t surprising that the pipeline would leak because that happens more than any industry or government entity would be willing to recognize. It is not surprising that the residents of Arvin were the first ones to know that something was wrong. As recently reported by climateprogress, regardless of the resources that industries spend on monitoring equipment, leaks and spills are seldom recognized before they somehow reach communities. Residents are the primary source of these type of discoveries. In the case of Arvin, residents had noticed the smell for several days prior. It is not surprising that first responders would turn around and assure everybody that this leak does not represent a threat to human life because the gas was nonhazardous. That is the trademark response to these cases. This was exactly what was said of the MCHM spill along the Elk River in West Virginia a few months ago. Perhaps the gas that leaked in Arvin is in fact nonhazardous. Nonetheless, this is a great example from which to build resident power to monitor and report these sort of concerns. Currently there are several resident groups working in Kern County that engage the public in being attentive to violations, regulations, and events. Global Community Monitor is a group that is actively testing air quality and engages residents in keeping daily pollution logs, something that would be handy in a situation where a smell is prevalent for several days. Another group is the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (kernreport.org) that establishes a resident reporting network of environmental hazards. These reports lead to investigations by government and in many instances lead to notices of violation to polluting industry.
**This was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Bakersfield Californian on 3-18-2014 at 4:40pm**