Inside Aera
Aera At Work Feb 18, 2020

Science speaks: Oilfield operations have little impact on air quality in Lost Hills and Shafter

Three Aera employees who are deeply involved in air-quality progress gather at Aera’s Belridge field near Lost Hills (from left): John Haley, Mark Hanson and Oscar Hernandez.

Air-monitoring studies by government agencies confirm that oil and gas extraction is not the source of harmful emissions in the two areas

Oil and gas operations don’t significantly impact air quality in the rural communities of Lost Hills and Shafter.

That’s according to preliminary data from recent studies by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollition Control District (SJVACD).

For Aera’s John Haley and Jonathan Dethloff, that’s gratifying but not surprising news. Both work closely with air-quality regulations and emissions mitigation.

“Aera has been tackling air pollution since it was formed in 1997, and we’ve only been getting better at reducing emissions,” said Haley, Aera’s Environment, Health and Safety lead for air quality.

Aera is one of multiple petroleum producers in the large Lost Hills field. It doesn’t operate in the Shafter area, although other oil and gas companies do.

CARB based its Lost Hills air-monitoring station at the Department of Water Resources facility on Highway 46. The white trailer inside the fence holds CARB’s measuring equipment. The state agency also captured data from a mobile monitoring platform. (Photo: CARB)

The findings reflect air-monitoring efforts conducted in 2019 in the two communities, which sit in northwest Kern County. The studies were designed to gather air-quality data near oilfields and are ongoing.

“Aera is fully supportive of these air-monitoring studies,” Haley said. “We want to know what CARB and the air district learn. We would fix any air-emission problem they find without hesitation. We are not going to work at our facilities if they’re not safe for employees or the community.”

The two studies mark the first indepth, air-quality monitoring near oilfields by third parties, noted Dethloff, a facilities engineer.

“It’s been a great educational opportunity for industry, local businesses, community members, air agencies and regulators,” he said. “It was a big undertaking to assess the amount of data CARB and the air district captured and publicly share it as they did.”

A closer look

Here’s more on the two monitoring projects:

Lost Hills. Here, CARB measured 135 chemicals each week over the course of six months. Only 10 chemicals were detected, CARB reported, and none was above acute health thresholds.

“The fact that all of the measurements came back below these thresholds means that the public, including sensitive individuals, should not have any noticeable discomfort or health effects from these chemicals,” Dethloff said.

Lost Hills is part of CARB’s Study of Neighborhood Air near Petroleum Sources (SNAPS). Exposure concerns raised by the community and CARB’s broader effort to understand the impacts of oil and gas operations helped drive the air-quality study.

This aerial view shows the many sites where the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District monitored air quality in Shafter. (Photo: SJVAPCD)

Shafter. The SJVAPCD monitored ambient air at several locations in Shafter. The data showed that particulate matter levels, known as PM2.5, are lower than in the nearby cities of Bakersfield and Corcoran. CARB assisted in the study.

The Shafter monitoring efforts were born with AB 617, which became law in 2017. It requires CARB and local air districts to develop and implement plans and measures to reduce air pollution exposure in disadvantaged communities. Shafter was one of 10 communities selected to receive clean-air resources under AB 617.

Under the new law, Shafter formed a committee of 29 community members to develop a plan to reduce local air emissions. Aera employees and Shafter residents Ed Zacarias and Oscar Hernandez serve on the committee. Aera’s Mark Hanson is an alternate.

“One of the best things about AB 617 is that it’s brought together diverse interests to discuss and learn more about air quality,” Haley said. “It’s a win for all.”

How Aera is clearing the air

Aera works to reduce air emissions in several ways to meet all regulations as well as its own “Exceptional Care for People and the Environment” priority.

In its Lost Hills field, for example, Aera operates natural-gas-fired engines with catalytic converters to bring emissions below required standards. The field also includes an extensive leak-detection system with personnel on hand to quickly fix problems.

Aera also partners with other oil and gas companies to try newer technologies, such as mobile monitoring.

“We’re going above and beyond to learn more,” Dethloff said. “A lot of best practices also are shared through our member associations like Western States Petroleum Association and California Independent Petroleum Association.”

Haley also credits state and local air regulators for air-quality improvements. “They have enforced a lot of stringent regulations over the past 50 years,” he said.

Expect more progress from Aera, the two men added.

“Aera will continue our quest to reduce emissions,” Haley said.

DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy is a three-time recipient of the Forbes America’s Midsize Employer List, placing ninth in the 2022 ranking and securing its spot in the top ten midsize companies to work for in the United States.

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