Doug Cook, the town’s deputy mayor, announced the state of emergency for the Indian Hills Golf Course and surrounding subdivision following a meeting of the Municipal Emergency Control group.
Gas has continued to leak into the air since Wednesday morning, and with no indication of when it might stop.
“We’re hoping it will dissipate in the near future,” Cook told The Observer. “There may be more radical steps to take if not, but at this point, there’s not much we can do.”
Firefighters and Lambton OPP responded to reports shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday from a nearby First Nations group of a strange odour coming from a creek.
The golf course was evacuated when the leak was discovered, and access to Indian Hill Trail West remains restricted, said Const. Travis Parsons, the OPP’s community services and media relations officer.
Cook said the evacuation was a precautionary measure and there is no risk to the public outside the gas leak site.
The cause of the leak is under investigation and is assumed to be naturally occurring gas venting to the surface. If that’s the case, it would be a rare incident since natural gas is usually found in pockets deep into the ground.
Natural gas, used as an energy source for heating, cooking, and power generation, is flammable when it mixes with air at certain concentrations.
Union Gas accompanied the firefighters to the site and determined the leak was indeed natural gas and contained methane, according to Andrea Stass, Union Gas’ manager of media relations. The utility company does not have any natural gas pipelines in the area, she added.
Representatives from the Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources are working in tandem to monitor the leak, but are not responsible for testing or determining the cause of the gas bubbles.
“Our focus is making sure the sampling work is done to determine the cause,” said environment ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan. “Once we have that or further information, that will really help us to determine what the appropriate next steps are.”
That responsibility falls to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation who technically own the land. It also falls within the municipality. As such, the First Nation has hired a consultant to determine where the gas is coming from.
The environment ministry did a review of the area for any possible sources of methane, but found nothing, Jordan said.
While there is a commercial sewage treatment plant on the golf course that sends treated “effluent” back to the creek, the ministry concluded “there is no indication that the sewage treatment plant or its effluent could be contributing to the methane release.”
The ministry also determined there is no possibility that the methane would present a health risk to people outside the immediate area, Jordan said. The municipality’s drinking water is safe.
“While signs may point to this being a naturally occurring gas leak, this has not been confirmed definitively,” Jordan said.
But Cook said with no possible sources of man-made pollutants releasing the methane, the consensus and “best opinion” is the gas leak is natural.
He added he had never heard of a naturally occurring gas leak before. Stass from Union Gas said she had heard of one other case in over 15 years working with the Chatham-based utility.
Lambton Shores, the First Nation and its consultant, as well as Ministry of the Environment officials are meeting again Friday. Until then, the state of emergency remains in effect and the public is advised to avoid the area.”