Abandoned gas wells ruled out as source of Wheatley gas leaks

Wheatley strong sign at CK Fire Hall 20. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

It’s been six months since the first gas leak in downtown Wheatley forced the evacuation of residents and efforts to find the source of the gas are zeroing in on the basement of a pub flattened by an explosion in August.

Chatham-Kent’s Chief Administrative Officer, Don Shropshire, is reporting that the gas seems to be coming from under two cement slabs at the former Pogue Pub at 15 Erie Street North, and not nearby abandoned gas wells as originally thought.

Shropshire said two cement slabs at the Pogue and the former motel beside it must be removed to determine if the gas is coming from under them.

“The gas was not being emitted from the wells where we thought the probable cause would be,” said Shropshire.

The municipality reported on Thursday afternoon that approximately 30 out of the 76 (40%) residential and business properties in the evacuation zone have been accessed by owners and tenants to get their belongings and winterize their properties.

Shropshire said the area is still volatile because of ongoing gas leaks and it’s difficult to estimate when residents can safely return permanently because the source of the gas leaks hasn’t been found.

“We are doing everything we can to get people in there on a temporary basis and more so back into their buildings, but it’s got to be done with safety in mind,” said Shropshire. “Our hearts go out to the families that have been out of their properties for several months. Very tough on the residents but we didn’t want people thinking back in September or even today that oh, yeah, I’ll be home next week or even some sort of artificiality about trying to get people in by Christmas. Of course you’d like to do it but unfortunately that’s not what we’re faced with right now.”

In September, the engineering firm conducting the investigation estimated it would take up to six months to complete.

Shropshire said safety is the highest priority.

“As hard as it’s been on people, the last thing we want to do is six months in we find out that someone has lost their life because we haven’t taken appropriate precautions,” Shropshire said, adding that he is also very concerned about future activity that could trigger another gas leak.

Entegrus will be in the explosion area next week removing power lines before the demolition work begins at The former Pogue and nearby buildings.

Meanwhile, the Wheatley BIA is pleased with a new security company hired by the municipality to protect the evacuation zone. BIA officials said the new company “is a lot more responsible and doing a great job protecting the properties.”

Former security guards were fired last month after they were found sleeping on the job and residents expressing concerns about people trespassing at night and possibly taking their belongings.

Chatham-Kent police said there have been no break-ins in the blast zone.

The area of 15 Erie Street North in Wheatley has experienced six hydrogen sulphide gas leaks since June 2, 2021 and an explosion on August 6, 2021 that injured 20 people, forced dozens from their homes and businesses, and damaged several buildings.