The well, which had been off line for about a year, was scheduled to get cleaned in order to re-enter production when the incident occurred. Workers were getting ready to enter the well to clean out sand when the master valve began leaking, according to John Allen, president and general manager of Oxy's Elk Hills site. At 2,500 feet, the well is relatively shallow and not under high pressure, Allen said. The exact amount of leakage was not known Tuesday. "We need to know the size of the hole and the pressure to estimate how much gas is escaping," he said.
One of the gas's elements, propane, is heavier than air and can cause gas clouds that hang on the ground. Such clouds could be dangerous for nearby communities such as Tupman and Taft. But Tuesday's breezes pushed gases away from Taft and kept clouds from forming near Tupman. Oxy monitored the situation with gas-sniffing equipment and wind-speed meters. If clouds had formed near Tupman, the firm's security workers would have gone to the community of 210 and told them about the situation, Allen said.
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