Residents blame local oil facility for widely-reported gas odor
VALENCIA COUNTY, N.M. – A strong gas odor reported across Valencia County Friday night prompted voluntary evacuations. The Valencia County Fire Department has not yet identified a source of the odor, but longtime residents believe a nearby oil processing facility is to blame.
“They’re the only oil refinery within five miles, and it smells all the time,” said Elizabeth Caldwell, a Valencia County resident.
Residents took to social media Friday night claiming Mesa Oil’s facility south of Rio Communities was the source of the leak. According to its website, the facility recycles used oil using a unique internal processing technology.
KOB 4 visited the facility Saturday afternoon and noticed an odor near the facility similar to natural gas.
Valencia County Fire Chief Matt Propp confirmed Friday New Mexico Gas Company, PNM, and BNSF Railway were all ruled out as potential sources of the odor – which was both reported as natural gas and crude oil.
Propp says crews visited Mesa Oil’s facility four times throughout the night and says there was no evidence it was the source of the odor; however, he says the department has not ruled out the facility.
Residents in nearby Rio Communities described Friday night’s odor as intense and concerning.
“It just reeked bad, bad, bad, bad,” said Abril Serrano. “My husband’s like, I don’t even want to light a cigarette or anything outside because you don’t know the intensity of it, or what can happen.”
Serrano says she suffered a serious headache, burning eyes and throat, and nauseous during Friday’s incident. Serrano says her young child also started coughing a lot.
“Once it has to do with my health, I’m just, that’s where you draw the line, and you demand them to do something about it,” she said.
Friday’s incident is not isolated. Several Rio Communities residents, including Serrano and Caldwell, say they’ve smelled a natural gas-like odor in the air almost daily since October.
“It was every day where I was starting to smell it in the morning. It wasn’t a strong, strong smell, but it was there, and you could smell it,” Serrano said.
Caldwell says she lived near oil refineries in San Juan County for nearly 40 years and is confident the odor is a byproduct from Mesa Oil’s facility.
“I’m used to smelling a little bit of it,” she said. “It’s really frightening to have that much gas odor in the air.”
Caldwell believes Mesa Oil’s equipment may be outdated. She says she’s complained to the company, village leaders, and the state’s environment department about the odor multiple times without result.
“I don’t think anybody cares,” Caldwell said. “I think we’re a group we’re at the very end of the metro area. Like you keep driving, you leave the metro area and I don’t think they care.”
Serrano hopes Friday’s incident is a wake-up call for residents and community leaders.
“It’s not fair for us to have to keep putting up with this and just turning a blind sight to these issues,” said Caldwell.