An agriculture development company has claimed responsibility for Friday's gas line explosion that killed one person and sent three more to a hospital with second- and third- degree burns.
Though Pacific Gas & Electric declined to release the name of the company, the owner of Big N Deep Agricultural Development acknowledged it had been working in the area.
“It was us,” owner Jeff Alexander said.
Alexander said he could not go into detail regarding the incident, but would once he was allowed.
“PG&E has kept everything on lockdown,” Alexander said.
Jeff Smith, a spokesman for PG&E, said there had recently been what is known as an “8-1-1 ticket” indicating someone intended to excavate nearby.
However, the ticket expired on Nov. 5 after being valid for 28 calendar days, he said. No digging is allowed without current paperwork.
“Conducting any activities under an expired ticket is against the law,” Smith said.
The 200-foot fireball that resulted from the ruptured line could clearly be seen from the top of the City of Bakersfield’s 18th Street parking structure in downtown Bakersfield, at least 10 miles from the blast.
About 450 PG&E electric customers and approximately 100 gas customers temporarily lost service as a result of the fire.
Smith said the utility intentionally cut electricity to the immediate area because of the accident. All electric outages have since been restored and gas connections were due to be restored by Saturday evening.
As for the cause of the fire, Kern County Fire Department Capt. Tom Ellison said “a third party, more than likely a farmer, hit the line with a piece of heavy equipment.”
The driver of the heavy equipment was killed in the fire. The Kern County Coroner’s Office had yet to identify the person as of Saturday.
”Any time you are going to do a digging project ... a free call to 8-1-1 will allow you to notify the utility members in the area of your project to mark the location of their underground facilities,” Underground Service Alert North 811 Board Liasion Ryan White said. “Although the contractor doing the excavation in Bakersfield did call in a request prior to his digging, it looks as if he unfortunately continued digging beyond the expiration date of his request.”
White also said he could not release the contractor’s identity.
Katie Allen, PG&E spokeswoman, said the company clearly marked the lines when the permit was requested.
The state's primary regulator of natural gas lines, the California Public Utilities Commission, said it sent an investigator to the site of what it said was Transmission Line 300A. CPUC said automatic valves initiated a shutoff.
The ”high-pressure“ pipeline was three feet in diameter, Ellison said.
“We have ordered PG&E to make the area safe, conduct a leak migration survey, set up a 100-foot perimeter and staff off the incident scene until we release it,” the agency said by email.
According to Ellison, firefighters waited for PG&E workers to arrive, letting the flames burn off escaping gas. When PG&E arrived on scene, Ellison said, they shut off manual valves on either side of the fire, thereby cutting off the gas fueling the flames.
According to PG&E’s timetable, the pipeline experienced a loss of pressure at 3:37 p.m., and within four minutes automatic valves halted the flow of gas to the segment affected. The company said its first responder arrived on scene at 4:04 p.m. to lock down the manual valves which were closer to the blaze. It took until about 4:30 p.m. for gas in the pipeline to be exhausted and the flame to finally go out.
Smith also said a third party, likely the victim, made contact with the pipeline, not the utility.
PG&E tested the pipeline for leaks as recently as this week and found none, and records show no leak along the line for at least the last three years.
”We're still looking into the specifics of how the contact was made,’’ Smith said.
A ruptured gas line in the same area happened by the same means in October 2014, according to a KCFD release. However, no fire resulted from the rupture and no injuries or deaths were reported.
The Californian’s James Burger, John Cox and Steven Mayer contributed to this report.