During a Friday meeting, state officials repeatedly told the evacuees of eight Arvin houses that the homes they have been banned from for more than eight months are now free of toxic gas.
The Nelson Court homes they lived in were evacuated March 18 because of a leak from an oil company's gas line that runs under Varsity Avenue. About three dozen people were displaced.
Upon Kern County's request, the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources reviewed an independent study of toxins found in the homes.
During the meeting, held at Golden Valley High School, DOGGR's State Oil and Gas Supervisor Steven Bohlen said the levels of gases in the homes have been safe for the last five months.
The testing reviewed by DOGGR was paid for by Kern County after Petro Capital Resources LLC, the company that owns the leaky gas line, performed its own human health risk assessment.
PCR determined the homes were safe for residents to return to but the residents wanted a second opinion.
Both the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and DOGGR reviewed the soil and air samples taken by the independent company hired by Kern County. The company will do an additional test in coming weeks as a precaution, said Bohlen.
Bohlen said the lack of gases found in the neighborhood showed that there was a "high probability, not with absolute certainty, but a high probability that the leak wasn't there that long."
Initially, the leak was discovered March 11, when Southern California Gas Co. was performing routine checks for leaks on its own natural gas line, when the instruments they were using detected PCR's leak.
Workers realized March 12 the leak wasn't from their pipeline and notified the city of Arvin.
Because Southern California Gas Co. had done testing on its own line in September 2013, the pipeline could not have been leaking for more than those six months, Bohlen said.
Because of the incident in Arvin, DOGGR plans to review the current pipeline management plans that oil companies have in place, Bohlen said. The oil companies would look at the current management plans and make sure they are modern and that the company knows where all of its pipelines are.
There is no record of the estimated 40-year-old pipeline in Arvin ever being tested for leaks.
No regulation mandating the testing of lines such as the one that leaked is in place because it is less than 4 inches in diameter, according to DOGGR regulations.
The pipeline does meet the state's definition of "environmentally sensitive" because it is within 300 feet of a residence. The Arvin line is 225 feet from the nearest home.
But testing is mandated only on environmentally sensitive small lines called gathering lines, usually 2 to 4 inches in diameter and carrying liquid hydrocarbons.
A public meeting will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Arvin Veteran's Hall, at 414 4th Ave., to further discuss the gas leak and testing results.
PCR has been paying for the residents' temporary housing in hotels and apartments while evacuated, but that funding will stop Sunday.
Nelson Court resident Elvia Garcia said she does not trust all of the testing, especially because some sampling will continue.
"I don't trust it, but I can't pay rent and (mortgage)," said Garcia.