By Cass Rains
KINGFISHER -- Mysterious unrefined natural gas leaks erupting in rural Kingfisher County in recent days continue to have officials puzzled as to their cause.
"We originally thought a pipeline had exploded," said Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission public information manager. "We had the pressure to zero pressure, and the leaks seemed to get bigger. So that's not it."
Skinner had said at a press conference Monday geologists and hydrologists are beginning to study underground maps of the area to find an explanation.
"We've ruled out the probables, and now we're into the unprobables," he said. "We've never seen one like this before, one that covers such a large area. It's another animal."
Skinner said the leak was unusual because of its size and that it was "moving with no explanation."
Officials said the U.S. Geologic Survey reported no seismic activity had been reported in the area.
"They said the area had been dead for some time," Skinner said.
Skinner said the leaks and geysers were occurring closest to Winter Camp Creek, formerly Dead Indian Creek. Sunday evening, one eruption was reported in Kingfisher Creek, "up to within a mile" west of the city of Kingfisher, Skinner said, but that leak had ceased. Winter Camp Creek flows into Kingfisher Creek, which could explain why an eruption would occur near the city, he said.
Kingfisher Fire Chief Jack Crawford said the leaks, which cover a stretch of 12 to 13 miles between Kingfisher and Okarche "had not progressed toward Kingfisher" since Sunday afternoon.
"The bulk of the action is in the creek -- in terms of the visual," Skinner said. "It's one long continuous leak."
Skinner said the leaks have been in areas close to the creek between the cities.
"They seem to be staying near the creek," he said. "It runs over the length."
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol used a plane to survey the area where the geysers were occurring, Crawford said, but discovered nothing unusual.
"They saw nothing," he said. "There was nothing out of the ordinary."
Skinner said reports of the geysers were first received Friday by hunters who reported the gushing holes of gas, water and mud to the local game warden, who then contacted the Corpora-tion Commission.
Voluntary evacuation has been established by Kingfisher Emergency Management, and the Red Cross has opened a comfort station at First Baptist Church on 13th Street.
"If people don't feel safe at their homes, we have a place for them to go," said Kingfisher Emergency Management Director Steve Loftis.
As of Monday afternoon, no one had used the provided comfort station.
By Monday, smaller geysers had appeared about eight and a half miles west and a mile north of Okarche on a county road.
For about 50 yards, small geysers pocked the north side of the dirt road, bubbling and spitting gas and mud. Sounding like a pot of boiling water, other geysers on the south side of the road, for a stretch of about 20 yards, did the same.
Some of the geysers shot only inches into the air, but others shot water into the air as much as two feet.
The areas where the geysers have occurred have been cordoned off, and Crawford advised people to stay away.
"You don't know if it's coming up from 10 feet or 140 feet below ground," he said. "It's very dangerous."
Officials have said the threat of the gas igniting is unlikely. Loftis said ignition would only be possible if there was direct contact with an open flame, as in a grassfire or use of a propane torch.
"It would be flammable if only you were right at the source," Loftis said.
The area about seven miles southwest of Kingfisher where the leak was first found still spews cold water mixed with mud. The size of the hole has remained the same since Saturday afternoon, but signs of water from the geyser reaching further out are evident.
A radius of about 8 feet from the geyser shows signs of wetness, and a smaller geyser only feet from the big one, gurgles with as much force as before.
About a mile east of a geyser that took a portion of a county road, a water spout reaching heights of about 10 feet keeps a constant spray, this time in a wheat field.
"Welcome to Yellowstone," joked a passerby Monday. Many people had been driving to the areas where the geysers are to see what people were talking about.
The U.S. Army National Guard Civil Support Team from Norman had been sent to Kingfisher, but was sent back when the need for evacuation was eliminated.
However, officials said the group was on stand-by if the need arose.
No one in Kingfisher County has left their homes because of the geysers, Loftis said. Authorities have asked those who smell the gas near their homes to voluntarily evacuate.
Although county officials are telling residents to check well sites for gas, which smells like modeling glue or rubber cement, Kingfisher's water supply is safe.
"The city gets its water from Cimarron Terrace," Loftis said at a press conference near one of the geysers. "There is little chance it could affect our drinking water."
By Cass Rains
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