The sound and the fury: Gas flare wears on Shafter-area residents

The sound and the fury: Gas flare wears on Shafter-area residents by John Cox, September 1, 2012, The Californian
Walt Desatoff tries to keep a good attitude about the 50-foot-high natural gas flare that roars day and night across the street from his home north of Shafter.
His family owns stock in the oil company that operates the flare, after all, and he accepts its monthly royalty checks for the use of his mineral rights. But Desatoff drew the line earlier this summer when the incessant noise — much like the sound of a jet engine — forced him to cancel family barbecues and shut windows despite the summer heat. “I understand it’s part of business,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that I live here.” … Adding to the frustration, local, regional and state officials are pointing fingers as to which agency is responsible for enforcing or imposing noise limits at the site.

The situation has arisen at a time of growing tensions between the local agricultural community and oil producers. At least two lawsuits have been filed recently challenging the approval of oil operations on Kern farmland.

Flares are considered far safer than simply venting the gas into the atmosphere. Beyond presenting an ignition hazard, releasing the gas would emit pollution much worse than a flare creates. … An independent analysis done in June found that the gas being flared at the site was 85 percent methane, about 6 percent ethane and less than 4 percent propane; other chemical components of the gas were found to be less than 2 percent. The air district has detailed rules for what emissions such flares may produce. These rules assign maximum allowable quantities of particulate matter, mono-nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and sulfur.

As for the noise generated by the flaring, county environmental health and code enforcement officials said that is outside the jurisdiction of local authorities. They said regulation of noise from oil fields is entirely up to the primary regulator of California’s oil industry, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. A spokesman for DOGGR, however, indicated that the division neither issues permits for flares nor tracks them.

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