“It sounded like a jet engine blew up,” said Angel. “And then we heard something like rain hitting the tin roof. But there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.”
The explosion was Spectra Energy’s Steckman Ridge gas compressor station, located half a mile from the Smith’s farm. The pattering droplets they heard was 1,629 pounds of used gear-lubricating oil turned into an aerosol mist by the explosion.
Oil wasn’t the only thing released that day; more than 6,400 pounds of methane and volatile organic compounds were also sprayed into the air. The oily mist settled on gardens, cars, and hayfi elds up to one and a half miles from the compressor plant.
The Smiths and their neighbors were told to not eat any vegetables or fruit from their gardens and to throw away toys that had been exposed. “But the oil covered everything,” said Angel Smith, “our house, garage, the hay wagons … we lost all our tomatoes and our berry crop.”
The gear oil mist landed on the Smiths’ beef cattle. It coated the tarp covering their winter hay supply and contaminated the exposed parts of bales. The oil landed on the corn, the pastures, and the hay fields. “We ended up cutting it and leaving it in the field,” says Angel Smith. She estimates they lost well over $25,000 in crops and hay; Wayne pegs the figure closer to $40,000. Then there are the additional expenses they’ve incurred to protect their livestock and harvest: a new shed to store hay ($22,000) and more than $4,000 in water tests. The problem, she says, is that they don’t know what they should be testing for.
But nothing they do has been able to save their once-thriving U-pick blueberry operation. Before the compressor accident, they could count on a steady flow of ten families a day, each hauling out five gallons or more of berries. But now, even after three years, only a handful of people drop by “We’ve got 550 plants and no one wants to pick berries,” says Angel Smith. She can’t fault people for being worried about contamination from the compressor and the surrounding gas wells. “At least the beef go to auction,” she says, noting that no one has ever questioned the safety of her beef.
Author: Sue Smith-Heavenrich
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