False gas leak report prompts evacuations in Downtown SLO

July 24, 2019

The city of San Luis Obispo announced Tuesday morning there was a gas leak in the downtown area, and several businesses, as well as the county courthouse and planning department building were evacuated, yet officials later determined no gas had leaked, but rather there was a hydraulic oil spill.

In posts on social media, the city of SLO said a gas leak occurred near the Pottery Barn furniture store by Osos and Monterey streets. Responding to what was believed to be a gas leak, authorities closed streets, carried out evacuations and instructed residents to avoid the area. Workers also turned off a gas line.

Later in the day, the city posted an update stating, rather than a gas leak, there was an hydraulic oil spill on Monterey Street. Workers cleaned up the oil, and authorities lifted the evacuation orders.

Fire officials are investing the source of the hydraulic oil found on Monterey Street.

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Hate to disagree with the experts. However, according to the CDC, “hydraulic fluids have a bland, oily smell and others have no smell” and according to mechanics, overheated hydraulic fluid only has a ‘burnt’ smell. Those of us in the area experienced a strong sulphur odor and it was pervasive, covering the surrounding blocks, including inside and behind multiple story buildings. Even with a ‘bland, oily smell,’ a 2 foot wide puddle of hydraulic oil could not have possibly produced such a large coverage of sulphur-type odor as was experienced by those working in the area. I also experienced physical symptoms that lasted most the day and initially could hardly breath. Numerous businesses needed to be evacuated because of the overpowering odor. A fellow downtown employee said he began walking the block where the spill was located – before emergency personnel had arrived – but was unable due the “overpowering gas smell.” He also observed a DocuTeam truck parked in the area where the spill was found but did not observe any smoke or spillage. Perhaps the smell originated by a parked truck of some type, and yet the sulpher smell lasted for well over an hour and long after the last truck left. Out of curiosity, just how old are the gas pipes buried under our city streets and our turn-of-the-century buildings? And does the new hotel currently under construction on Morro and Palm (which is also upwind from where the odor was experienced) have gas hook-up yet?

Remember the old days when it wasn’t unusual to see oil spots on asphalt roads, driveways and parking lots? Now suddenly a spot of oil on a roadway calls for the closure of a major part of our downtown area, and dispatch of hazmat crews. I guess local or state government now needs to spend $1 million to develop a smart phone app that will help millennials tell the difference between an oil spot and a dangerous natural gas leak. Maybe we can tack on another 10 cent gas tax to pay for developing the app.

People noticed a bad smell near the SLO Planning Department, gas leak would not be my first thought….

What I don’t understand is that PG&E has mobile sophisticated technology that can instantly detect gas leaks and mitigate the risk. It should have been quick, everyone back to work in a very short time rather than spilt oil from a passing beverage truck. Not getting it.

Opportunity for a haz-mat drill.

Maybe they had to have a garage sale and sold that equipment….