Cleanup begins while leak continues

Chevron is trying to clean up part of the spill of oil and contaminated water. It is in the bottom of a dry stream bed in a remote area of Western Kern County. State Fish and Wildlife say no damage to local wildlife has been detected. Pretty hard to find evidence of that when heavy machinery is totally destroying what existed a few weeks ago. This was an ephemeral stream bed in a narrow and steep gully which was filled with native bushes and grass along both sides of a sandy bottom.

This was prime habitat for the endangered Kit Fox, Kangaroo Rat, Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard, and the Burrowing Owl. This gully would have been a safe passageway through an industrialized area of extreme oil production including wells, pumps, pipelines, steam generators, tanks, and oil stained dirt roads.

Here are a few photos posted by CDFW today. Below the photos are the latest reports on the quantity of the leak.

CDFW photo of cleanupcleanup of one section of spill acleanup of one section of spill update on oil spill07.29.19 chart of oil leak

7/25/19 Update on Chevron Oil Leak in Kern County

First a few of the latest photos and then three articles (among many) and a couple videos.

2019.07.24 Chevron oil leak Cymric wider angle

Yesterday morning, prior to Governor Newsom’s visit in the afternoon, Chevron was hard at work building large berms across the gully to separate the spill into three sections. Presumably, there is oil leaking out of the ground in at least 5 places and in each of the three sections. Notice the oil is backed up to the top of this section of gully. A culvert separates this section of gully from the section higher up.

In this excellent video, posted by Eytan Wallace on Twitter yesterday (@EytanWallace), the three sections are visible while a machine seems to be stirring dirt into the oil to perhaps solidify it into a mud which can be scooped up?

Below we see the gully a week earlier and at the bottom the culvert that goes under a large filled space for oil field production. Dirt, in the second photo from yesterday morning, has been dumped to keep seeping oil from backing up into the culvert.

7.18.19 oil spill upstream culvert

07.25.19 oil leak and gully upstream

In the second photo above, the oil spill seems to have backed up 10 to 20 feet more upstream in the gully. The video above also shows a fourth earthen berm across the gully or partially blocking the gully which have been made since the oil leak began in May.

According to State reports on the oil leak the rate of flow the last couple days is still very high. It seems to be well over 500 barrels per day. But, these are crude estimates of the volume in the gully and probably do not account very well for the mixture of oil and water which is continuously soaking into the sandy stream bed.

Not included in the table below are 105 barrels of oil and water leaked into the stream bed and reported on May 10, 2019 as a separate incident. see report here

07.29.19 chart of oil leak

Here is a video posted to youtube by the Bakersfield Californian. It is of reporters interviewing Gavin Newsom yesterday at Mckittrick Elementary School about three miles from the oil leak.

Three of many print news stories from yesterday are posted below.

Governor Newsom Tours Kern County Oil Spill as Local Residents Call for Immediate Health and Safety Protections

Admin    July 24, 2019

MCKITTRICK, CA– Governor Gavin Newsom today visited Chevron’s Cymric oilfield, the site of one of the largest oil spills ever in California, that has reportedly seeped 974,400 gallons of a hazardous mix of oil and wastewater into the surrounding area for over two months.

During today’s media availability, the governor pledged to continue his work reforming the agency responsible for regulating the fossil fuel industry in California, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) following his firing of the head of the agency after discovering fracking permits had increased during his time in office without his knowledge.

The spill has occurred at site that employs an extreme oil-extraction technique called steam injection. Earlier this year, DOGGR adopted weaker restrictions on the practice, making these operations even more dangerous.

The site is still leaking and rather than focusing its energy on stopping the spill, Chevron said Monday that it plans to appeal a state-mandated order to “take all measures” to stop it and prevent future occurrences.

While environmental justice, climate and community groups in the Central Valley affiliated with Last Chance Alliance are encouraged by the governor’s visit to the site of the massive leak, they are urging him to take immediate action to protect Californians against the state’s fossil fuel industry:

“We applaud the governor for coming to see first-hand the McKittrick spill. The McKittrick spill goes to show that both the regulated industry and regulators are not meeting their responsibility to protect public health and the environment,” said Cesar Aguirre, a Kern County organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Even after the governor and his administration requested that action be taken immediately, the spill continued – to what end do you regulate a declining and irresponsible industry? We have seen issues like this before with Nelson Court, where families are still dealing with the ramifications of a leaking gas pipe. CCEJN would like to invite the governor on a tour throughout Kern County to see how this industry devastates the health of communities to understand the full scope of the oil and gas industry’s impact.”

“While this incident occurred in an isolated area, other similar oil production-related incidents have occurred in proximity to Kern County communities,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “It is time that state leadership and decision-makers take action and pay attention to the gravity of such incidents. It is time that we put our money where our mouth is and set in place a buffer zone of no less than 2,500 feet to protect our communities, ecological areas and the environment as a whole.”

After tour of massive oil spill, Gov. Newsom calls for answers; critics quick to finger new, lax regulations

Janet Wilson, Palm Springs Desert Sun Published 6:03 p.m. PT July 24, 2019 | Updated 6:12 p.m. PT July 24, 2019

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday toured one of the largest oil spills in state history, a nearly one million gallon seep that has gushed into a Chevron oil field west of Bakersfield for two months, and said regulators are pushing hard to uncover the cause.

The seep had released 974,400 gallons of oil and wastewater and had still not been stopped as of late Tuesday.

Most of the oil and sediment is being pumped into trucks by Chevron, and will be separated and possibly sold as crude, for further oil drilling or road overlay, state regulators said. About a third of the seep is crude oil, they estimated. At today’s prices of $55 a barrel, that means Chevron could earn upwards of $425,000 off the crude, which is being produced out of seeps that appear to be illegal under current state law.

Newsom, speaking at a local elementary school in the oil-dominated town of McKittrick three miles from the spill, could not be reached by The Desert Sun for questions. But in a briefing there, he said California officials have requested Chevron’s data on the cause, and were doing their own investigation. He said regulations might be toughened as a result of the giant spill, but until a cause was verified, he was going to be cautious.

“We just need to find the real, root cause,” he said. “We want to learn from this, we need to get to the bottom of this and tighten things up.”

He noted Chevron’s initial’s assessment was that the spill began because of problems capping an old well. But a senior environmental attorney told The Desert Sun that a state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources map shows the company had been using steam injection techniques nearby to blast underground formations to extract oil. He said legal caps which banned the risky practice were wrongly lifted in April, when new regulations on oil and gas took effect. State regulators said the new policies were some of the toughest in the nation.

In Kern County, Newsom addressed renewed calls from a wide array of environmental and community groups to shut down the oil industry in California and replace it with renewables. The Governor said while he was committed to a “thoughtful transition” to a low carbon green energy future, people need to be realistic about how heavily they depend on oil and gas, and what a key role it plays in the state’s and the Central Valley region’s economy.

The governor said he was impressed by the monitoring and clean-up efforts he saw on Wednesday, especially since the area around the spill is hazardous.

“This event puts people’s lives at risk, the people out there right now. There’s certainly a lot of concern around the expression areas, they’re dangerous,” he said.

Oil workers have perished in California and elsewhere after falling into sinkholes created by drilling and so-called surface expressions, as the seeps are known the industry. Chevron worker Robert Taylor died in 2011 after a Kern County oil field he was crossing opened underneath him, and he was sucked into hot, oily fluids. His body was recovered hours later. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health closed the case after a two-month investigation, finding no violations.

Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland, said a state map shows the current, massive seep was near an active cyclic steam injection well. He said until March, steam pressure injection had to be kept to a level less than the point at which underground formations would fracture. The new regulations, which took effect in April, state that oil and gas regulators may now approve higher pressure injections.

The public affairs office with the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, commonly known as DOGGR, said last week that the new regulations were the toughest in the country, and that seeps were banned.

“Here are the current regulations, which flatly state “(a) Underground injection projects shall not result in any surface expression,” they said in an email.

“Regulations to both prevent and respond to surface expressions were significantly strengthened, not weakened, under California’s new regulations for underground injection control,” the email said. “Over the last four years, California has put in place regulations for a wide range of oil and gas operations that have been cited as some of the strongest in the nation.”

It added, ‘the new regulations mitigate the risk of damage from surface expressions by requiring a standardized response program to be implemented consistently, without the need for further action or order from the DOGGR.”

Nonetheless, Jason Marshall, acting head of DOGGR, issued notices of violation and ordered to Chevron to immediately contain the seep or face possible heavy fines. Chevron has indicated it may appeal the order, but a senior company advisor said Wednesday they are committed to abiding by the conditions and getting the job done correctly.

“Chevron will continue to work in collaboration with state regulators to resolve this issue and take measures to prevent similar situations in the future. We are working with DOGGR to address the issues outlined in the order,” said Sean Comey, Chevron’s Senior Advisor for Corporate Issues, Litigation and Financial Communications. “The purpose of the notice of appeal is to clarify specific requirements in the order related to the meaning of certain terms and phrases, and the timing and scope of requested information. We are eager to begin this work, but we want to ensure it is done in full compliance with the regulators’ orders.”

Newsom recently fired the head of DOGGR after the Desert Sun reported that the fracking permits they issued have doubled since he took office, and that senior agency managers and engineers held shares of stock in major oil companies the agency regulates. He said Wednesday that an investigation into the conflicts of interest and current agency practices is still unfolding, and that changes might be made at a broader level as well.

Kretzmann pointed to another section of the new law, which he called a “carve-out” loophole that allows low energy, low-temperature seeps, provided they are contained, and do not damage health, property or wildlife. Smaller seeps also do not have to be reported to authorities under current state law.

He said “to be sure, the Chevron accident is not a ‘low energy seep'” but said state regulators were falsely claiming all of them had been banned. He also said if reporting of smaller seeps was required, it could enable state responders to better understand and help control them.

“Full steam ahead” might be the appropriate summary,” said Kretzmann of the revised regulations. “It looks like steam injection is at the root of this dangerous leakage that’s still growing and spreading after 10 weeks. This is the direct result of lax regulations, a complicit agency willing to look the other way and an industry that wants every last drop of oil, no matter the cost.”

Kretzmann is part of an alliance of hundreds of environment and public health groups that are pushing for the complete phase-out of oil and gas in California, and for buffers between local homes and schools and active oil extraction in the meantime.

“This disaster should finally end the debate of whether regulations can rein in the oil industry. It’s clear we need to start the transition away from oil right now,” he said.

Spokesmen for the oil company did not respond to requests for comment on Kretzmann’s charges or the potential sale of crude from the spill. They have said for the past two weeks that the leak was reported as soon as it surfaced in May, that they have consistently reported when it has expanded, and that because it was spilling into a dry creek bed and had been contained by a berm, there has been no damage to people or the environment. State Office of Emergency Services officials have confirmed that Chevron correctly reported the event.

Some groups praised Newsom for coming to the site.

“We applaud the Governor for coming to see first-hand the McKittrick spill. (It) goes to show that both the regulated industry and regulators are not meeting their responsibility to protect public health and the environment,” said Cesar Aguirre, a Kern County organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Even after the Governor and his administration requested that action be taken immediately, the spill continued – to what end do you regulate a declining and irresponsible industry?”

He said local communities are concerned about emissions from the spill and other oil industry activity spreading in the air, which can contain dangerous chemicals.

Newsom also said Wednesday that while he was optimistic, it was too soon to say the “surface expression” had been fully contained. It has spread to three different areas, he confirmed.

“We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

Governor promises balanced approach toward petroleum

Newsom says California’s transition to low-carbon energy sources must be done ‘thoughtfully’ after touring site of spill in Kern County


Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking with reporters in western Kern after a tour of California’s largest oil spill in years, withheld judgment on the incident Wednesday and said he must balance the state’s low-carbon future with the needs of communities economically dependent on petroleum production.

Newsom’s comments suggest he may try to steer a middle course, as his predecessor Jerry Brown did, even as he pushes California toward a low-carbon energy future.

The governor said he was encouraged to see Chevron is making progress in cleaning up the leak of about 900,000 gallons of black fluid, about a third of it oil, that has come to the surface intermittently near McKittrick since mid-May.

There is no evidence the event caused lasting environmental damage, he said, but it did endanger the lives of people working in the surrounding Cymric Oil Field.

Newsom said he would wait to hear what state officials determine to be the incident’s cause. He pointed out industry leaders have descended upon the site to learn how they might work to avoid such accidents in the future.

Taking a line from oil industry defenders, the governor told reporters he drove to the site and that he flies a lot, adding he must be “held to account to that reality.” He also mentioned that oil production is an industry that helped build California.

He also made reference to what he called a vigorous debate in Sacramento over how to regulate, or possibly ban, oil field techniques that environmental activists deem extreme and potentially damaging. He promised to continue to try to wean California off petroleum-based fuel but said it must be done responsibly, with “respect as well” for communities whose economies rely on oil.

“I want to begin that transition (away from petroleum) and I want to do it thoughtfully,” he said.

The governor has taken recent steps that could be read as concessions to the state’s increasingly anti-oil environmental lobby, such as the removal of California’s top oil regulator earlier this month over apparent conflicts of interest among agency supervisors. Newsom has also budgeted $1.5 million in taxpayer money to study ways of reducing the state’s oil supply and demand for it.

Chevron has preliminarily concluded the leak was caused by a broken well it was “re-abandoning,” or resealing, when oil and water started to flow onto the ground in what the industry calls a “surface expression.”

Surface expressions are not allowed in California, though they have happened many times in the history of Kern oil production.

San Ramon-based Chevron insists steam was not a factor in the leak. But as The Californian reported Sunday, observers reading from Chevron’s own records say the company should not have been injecting steam at high pressure at the same time it had opened and was working on another well nearby.

California’s acting oil and gas supervisor, Jason Marshall, expressed doubt Wednesday about Chevron’s explanation. Although the company continues to gather and turn over a wealth of data about the leak, he said it “looks to me” like steam contributed to the problem. He emphasized he is not an engineer.

The agency Marshall oversees, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, has issued Chevron two notices of violation relating to the leak. It has also ordered the company to do everything possible to keep it from resuming its flow. Among the measures intended to accomplish that is a ban on injecting steam within a 1,200-foot radius of the leak.




2019 Kern County Chevron Oil Leak

May-July 2019

Cymric oil field general.jpgCymric Oil Field, July 2019

May 2019 chevron-spill-1020x825.jpgEarliest public photo of leak on May 10, 2019 or a few days later.

6.12.19 oil leak.jpg

june 19 oil leak IMG_0642-1020x765.jpg

7.1.19 oil leak.jpg

july 2 oil leak.jpg

7.9.19 oil leak.jpg

7.13.19 cymric oil leak.jpg

2019.07.15 cymric field oil spill with time stamp.jpg

Chevron Ordered to Halt Oil Spill into California Canyon

The seep has been happening on and off since May.


  • PUBLISHED 15 JULY 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California regulators say Chevron has not done enough to stop a massive oil spill that dumped about 800,000 gallons of crude oil and water into a Kern County canyon, and they want the company to take further action to halt the flow.

The seep out of the ground where Chevron injects steam to extract underground crude oil has been happening on and off since May.

The state has issued Chevron a notice of violation ordering it to stop steam injections around the area where the seep was occurring in the large Cymric Oil Field about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Bakersfield. This week Chevron said no new fluid had come to the surface and that 90 percent of the released material has been recovered.

The company also said the spill is not near any waterway and has not significantly affected wildlife.

KQED reports regulators took a further step by ordering the company to completely stop the flow, also known as “surface expression,” and prevent any new releases. The order was issued by Jason Marshall, the new acting head of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The directive came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the head of the embattled division over a recent increase in hydraulic fracturing permits and amid a conflict-of-interest investigation of other division employees.

“The division has determined that operator has had a continuous and interconnected series of surface expressions on its property that are not ‘low-energy seeps’ where, based upon the supervisor’s information and belief, operator has not yet done everything that is necessary to prevent future occurrences,” the order said.

Chevron said it will review the order and work with the involved agencies.

Chevron could appeal the order. But if it remains in effect and the company doesn’t comply, the division says the company faces fines and more enforcement action that could include regulators rejecting Chevron applications for future oil well operations.

cymric oil field with time stamp.jpgWell stimulation activity near oil leak (fracking, acidizing, etc.?)

chevron hazardous waste dump.jpgHazardous waste (contaminated soil) being landfilled nearby leak.

well being cemented July 19.jpg

July 18, 2019 Oil Well just above leak along gully being worked on. Perhaps being sealed?

sink hole at chevron oil leak annotated 7.18.19 2.25 PM.jpgJuly 18, circular sinking of surface beside leak in gully. Red netting around depression.

oil spill 11 with time stamp.jpg

oil spill 13 with time stamp.jpg

oil spill 14 time stamp.jpg

time stamped looking down gully from a mile above spill 7.15.19.jpg


LA Times Story

After 800,000-gallon spill, Chevron site is still leaking oil


On the same day Sen. Dianne Feinstein chastised Chevron Corp. for keeping an 800,000-gallon spill outside Bakersfield “under wraps,” California officials confirmed Thursday that the site was once again seeping a hazardous mix of oil and water.

The new leakage occurred in a surface expression vent in the Cymric oil field, near the Kern County town of McKittrick, according to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The vent is one of the locations where three previous leaks released about 800,000 gallons of oil and water.

Field inspectors from the agency identified the latest seepage at 3 p.m. Wednesday and released information about the latest spill Thursday. The agency is working to address what they are describing as a large oil release. The leak potentially resulted from a high-intensity steam injection intended to release oil.

According to the agency, the first leak occurred on May 10 and was stopped that day. New seepage occurred on June 8 and continued to flow intermittently for a span of five days. The persistent seepage was again recorded June 23 and Wednesday, the agency said.

“This is something the public should have been alerted to earlier,” she said. “Proper oversight can’t occur if incidents like these are kept under wraps.”

Feinstein said that although the company said it had recovered most of the oil, “the full toll to the area is not yet known.” She said it was fortunate that the leak did not occur “during a rainy period or the effects on our environment and wildlife would have been even more tragic.”

A Chevron representative could not be reached for comment Thursday.

According to Michelle Corson, public relations officer for the Kern County Public Health Services Department, Chevron is required to report incidents to local jurisdictions, and it reported the leak to the county two months ago.

“We are absolutely aware of the situation,” Corson said.

The Kern County Environmental Health Services Department reports that the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is the lead agency addressing the spill. Kern County Public Health is not legally permitted to enter the site until it is deemed safe. After that time, the county will work alongside appropriate agencies to begin the cleanup.

“I’m not aware of residents contacting the department,” said Corson, who noted that the majority of calls have been from news outlets.

Corson said that the site is cordoned off and not accessible to the public, and that sound devices to deter wildlife from the area have been installed around the site.

On Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council echoed Feinstein’s concerns.

“This is not the time for Chevron to keep details about this destructive oil spill from the public,” said Damon Nagami, the council’s senior attorney. “Time and time again, we’ve seen the devastating effects of oil spills on our wildlife, water and communities. Multiple notices of violation signal that is a serious problem, and we expect DOGGR to hold Chevron fully accountable.”

According to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the agency’s acting supervisor, Jason Marshall, issued a formal order to Chevron on July 12 demanding it take a series of actions to address the spill.

The agency said Tuesday that preparations to remove contaminated soil from the site were underway and that vacuum trucks were on-site to remove accumulated oil and water.

The spill mixture was about one-third oil and two-thirds water, the agency said.

DOGGR Order on oil leak

Cymric Oil Field Release

The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) continues to address a large oil release known as a “surface expression” of oil and water in a dry streambed in the Cymric oil field located in Kern County. This kind of discharge can occur when steam injected under pressure to produce oil breaks through natural geologic barriers to the surface.  The seepage began on May 10 and ceased that same day.  It was reported to DOGGR, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. The flow reactivated a second time on June 8, flowing intermittently for five days. On June 23, the seep started again. Numerous steps were taken to stop the discharge. On July 17, a small seep was observed at one of the surface expression vents where there had been a prior release. The releases have totaled approximately 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) of a mixture of about one-third oil and two-thirds water.

Current Status

July 18: At 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, July 17, DOGGR field inspectors reported a small seepage of oil and water from one of three surface expression vents where the flow had previously ceased. DOGGR notified Chevron, and the Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor amended the July 1, 2019 Notice of Violation to expand the well shut-in radius from 600 to 1,200 feet. The Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor and DOGGR field engineers were on site Thursday.

July 16: DOGGR officials confirmed on July 12  the flow of oil and water ceased. DOGGR field engineers are conducting regulator site inspections and remain on call in the nearby area.

An earthen dam is containing the seepages. A combination of shutting in nearby injection wells and activating idled production wells to ease pressure on the formation appeared to help stem the flow. Chevron deployed loud air cannons to keep wildlife away.

Vacuum trucks are removing the pooled oil and water. Preparation to remove contaminated soil from the site is underway. A licensed civil engineer will be surveying the site to determine when it will be safe to bring in the crews and equipment necessary to do the job.

There are no reported injuries or threats to drinking water or to waters of current or future beneficial use at this time. The spill occurred about 3.5 miles from the town of McKittrick and about 6 miles from the nearest farm. The incident is about 35 miles west of Bakersfield.

DOGGR’s Response

DOGGR inspectors responded immediately to the site and engaged with the operator on their efforts to remediate the damaged, abandoned well believed to have triggered the seeping. DOGGR issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to the operator on May 20; sent a second NOV on June 13; and updated the NOVs with Addendums dated July 1 and July 17.

Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor Jason Marshall took escalating action on Friday, July 12, 2019, in a formal Order directing Chevron to do the following:

1. Immediately take all measures necessary to stop any flow from surface expressions and prevent any new surface expressions near the current expression.

2. Within 10 days, engage in a technical meeting with DOGGR staff to provide data about the Cymric oil field subsurface with the goal of establishing programs and protocols to prevent future expressions.

3. Submit data to validate the initial root-cause analysis of the surface expression Chevron performed and presented to DOGGR on June 20.

4. Include necessary data to re-evaluate three existing underground injection projects in and around the surface expression.

5. Provide specified geologic data and results from monitoring systems Chevron claims to use for prevention of surface expressions.


Note: the nearest farm is 3.5 miles away from the leak. DOGGR claims it is 6 miles away.

distance to nearest farm.jpgDistance from oil leak to nearest farm is 3.5 miles and almost directly down stream.

1200 ft radius.jpg1200 ft radius from oil leak where oil well activity is shut down.

July 21 Bakersfield Californian Story

Chevron injected steam near well work before oil leak near McKittrick

Chevron records show the large, McKittrick-area oil leak that has shone an unflattering light on Kern County petroleum production probably originated with an idle well being worked on at the same time the company was injecting high-pressure steam just 360 feet away, a combination that industry people say should not have been performed simultaneously in such close proximity and which possibly contributed to the release.

The San Ramon-based oil producer told state regulators in a recent written analysis that a well it was using to put steam into the Cymric Oil Field was not switched from injections to production mode until 7½ hours after the company noticed oil seeping to the surface at 5:30 a.m. on May 10.

Observers within the industry said that timeline suggests steam injection activity was happening at the same time Chevron had opened up and was “re-abandoning,” or resealing, a well idled in 2004. The routine re-abandonment activity in this case began May 7, according to Chevron’s records, which do not indicate the start of what is typically a days long steam injection process.

The problem with steaming a well near concurrent work on another well, people familiar with local oil fields say, is that there’s a chance steam will make its way through uncharted channels underground before coming to the surface in an area not outfitted to receive oil.


Several people interviewed said Chevron should have “shut in” — meaning turned off — the steam injection well that state maps show lies 360 feet from the surface of a well the company blames for several thousand barrels of oil ending up in a dry creek bed during a series of uncontrolled releases near McKittrick.

“I definitely would say they need a 600-foot shut-in radius if they are doing a re-abandonment,” said Bakersfield geologist Burton R. “Burt” Ellison, former district deputy at the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the state’s primary oil regulatory agency.


Others, noting the complexity of subsurface conduits in western Kern oil fields, said it’s hard to say what a safe distance would have been in this case, and that additional nearby wells may have played a role in the leak. But they still questioned the wisdom of steaming so close to a well undergoing work.

“It’s probably too close,” Bakersfield independent oil producer Ken Hunter said. “It’s not definite one way or another … given the fact that steam goes into a crevice, and instead of it going on … uniformly, it goes through a crack.”


A local engineer familiar with the “cyclic steaming” technique used in this case, and the area where it was being performed, agreed to review Chevron’s accident report and speak about it on the condition of anonymity because the person works for a company whose clients include Chevron. The engineer concluded Chevron’s report on its steaming activity near and during the re-abandonment job represents “a smoking gun” suggesting the company did not follow its own best practices before the accident.


For its part, Chevron denies steam played any role in the uncontrolled releases that have continued intermittently at the site since mid-May. Preliminarily, it has pointed to a pressure test, ordered by regulators to check the integrity of the well being re-abandoned, as the most likely cause of the mess.

The company said the nearest well to have undergone steam work during the re-abandonment work was actually 597 feet from the broken well’s underground perforations.


“The distance between surface locations on a map is 360 (feet) but this is not relevant for determination of a steam block,” the company said by email Friday. “Steam block” refers to a procedure for halting steam injections to part of an oil field.

Chevron said it has performed extensive diagnostic testing of wells near the leak, including temperature surveys, nitrogen testing for well-bore integrity and steam testing. It said steam was injected in four wells near the leak for about 24 hours and that this had no apparent impact on the seep, “which indicated that these wells and steam were not the root cause.”


“We then pressure-tested the abandoned well with water, which led to the reactivation of the seep. These results indicated that the root cause was the abandoned well,” the company stated.


Ellison, the former DOGGR official, said Chevron appears to have worked in good faith to determine the cause of the problem. But he was skeptical of its claims that steam played no role in the accident, saying he would have called for a steam-block radius of as much as 1,000 feet around the re-abandoned job.

Re-abandoning an oil well involves drilling out what is essentially a concrete plug before doing work that ends in a new concrete seal.


Ellison’s theory is that another well not mentioned in Chevron’s analysis, which he said runs laterally through the same area, may have been the real culprit allowing steam to carry oil to the site of the surface releases, hundreds of feet from both the well that was being steamed and the one being worked on.

“It’s a convenient explanation but not really plausible in my mind,” he said of Chevron’s report.


DOGGR did not respond to a request for comment on Chevron’s report, which it has judged an inadequate explanation of the cause of the releases.

The uncontrolled release of oil and water at the site is a form of “surface expression” that, though forbidden under DOGGR regulations, has happened periodically in the history of Kern County oil production.


In this case, no one was reported injured and no surface water or drinkable groundwater was placed at risk. The area is in an unpopulated part of western Kern with no development other than oil facilities.

What makes this surface expression especially significant is its size and visibility. More than 13,000 barrels of black fluid have come up from the ground, about a third of which is oil, meaning more than 190,000 gallons of crude came up from the ground onto the surface.

The accident, along with striking photos of black fluid in a dry creek bed, has attracted notice as far away as San Francisco. It has come at a time when environmental activists up and down the state, many of them more concerned about climate change than they are knowledgeable about technical oil processes, are calling for an end to California oil production.


“Obviously, we’re in a very visual world, and so … (the releases) do not put the business in a good light, so to speak,” Hunter said.

But he added the situation isn’t as bad as it appears.


“These are the types of things that can happen in an industrial site. And this is an industrial site,” he added. “There’s going to be no long-term damage to the environment.”


DOGGR has issued two notices of violation against Chevron relating to the releases. The agency has also ordered Chevron to stop steam injection work within 1,000 feet of the abandoned well believed to be at fault. About 20 injection wells in the area have been shut in, while nine idle production wells have been reactivated as a way of reducing underground pressure in the area.

The agency also told Chevron in May to prepare a monitoring and prevention plan for review by the division no later than Nov. 20. The plan was to include a surveillance system or a pressure and flow monitoring system “that will give adequate warning to prevent surface expressions.”


DOGGR also ordered the company to map the leak, “including cracks, fissures and sinkholes related to underground injection work,” as well as plans for restricting access to the area and training for people working in the area.

2019.07.24 Chevron oil leak Cymric

2019.07.24 Chevron oil leak Cymric close up2019.07.24 Chevron oil leak Cymric wider angle

SB100 advice

SB 100 goal is 100% renewable electricity in California by 2045. The goal is laid out with intermediate goals giving a straight path to the 100% finish line. The increase in renewable electricity needs to be constant by a little less than 3% per year over 25 years.

Here is a graph showing the SB100 proposed path. The intermediate goals are 33% by 2020, 50% by 2026, 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2045. This path means that approximately one third (34%) of the electricity used in California between 2020 and 2045 will not be renewable and two thirds (66%) will be.

Since getting the final 5-15% renewable electricity will likely be much more difficult than the earlier increases, it may make more sense to speed up the increases in renewable energy over the initial 15 years and glide into the 100% goal over the final ten years.

An alternative path is shown below. Here the earlier goals are increased. They include 60% renewable electricity by 2026 and 85% by 2030. The increases required each year then taper off significantly the last 15 years. In this scenario only one sixth of electricity is not renewable over the 25 years. This scenario cuts CO2 emissions from future electricity use in CA by half when compared to the proposed schedule.

speeded up scenario

The absolutely necessary transfer of transportation and heating energy sources from fossil fuel to electricity will necessitate large increases in electrical use in the final 15-20 years before 2050. This means increasing the intermediate goals in SB100 for the years 2026 and 2030 can both have a significant effect on total GHG emissions in California over the next 25 years and also make it easier to reach the final goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2045 and the 80% reduction in total GHG emissions by 2050.

California is failing to reduce GHG emissions within state boundaries

No co-benefits in California’s GHG Reduction Plan

If California leads the world in greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, then we are in big trouble.

California, the self-proclaimed climate leader, just released its greenhouse gas inventory for 2015 on the Air Resources Board webpage. This inventory is required annually by California law.

The inventory shows our progress meeting the 2020 goal of lowering current GHG emissions to 1990 levels. As of 2015, California is at 440 million tons of annual CO2 equivalent GHG levels of emissions. The target for 2020 is 431 million tons. There is also a new target mandated for 2030 of 40% below 1990 levels or approximately 259 million tons of annual emissions.

Currently, emissions need to decrease about 2 million tons per year for the next 5 years and we will reach the 2020 target. At that time California must get serious about the climate and reductions must be at least 17 million tons per year.

Over the past five years, since 2010, emission reductions in California total less than 6 million tons. This is nothing compared to the future goal of 17 tons per year. This early period is when reductions are supposed to be the easiest as many of them can come from efficiency measures alone. It is also the time when emission reductions have the biggest impact on future climate change.

CA GHG inventory 2010.2015

In 2015, California’s GHG emissions dropped a paltry 1.5 million tons. How and where did those reductions take place? It turns out none of those reductions were within the boundaries of California. Neither did any of the 6 million tons over the past five years take place near any environmentally challenged community in California which feel the brunt of the impact from co-pollutants such as NOx, fine particulates, and toxic emissions. California imports about 25% of its electricity every year. Recently, the state electrical providers have been importing increasing amounts of renewable energy. That renewable energy is reducing the total GHG emissions from the electricity sector of the inventory and making up for actual increases of GHG emissions within the state. Over the past 5 years, GHG emissions from imported electricity have dropped nearly 10 million tons while the amount of electricity imported has increased nearly 15% while remaining about 25% of the total electrical mix.

CA ghg from imported electricity

What this means is California electricity providers are meeting the mandated renewable portfolio standard plus their Cap and Trade obligations by importing an increasing amount of renewable energy from out of state. About 2/3 of this imported electricity comes from Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Now, California requires 33% renewable energy by 2020 but Arizona only requires 15% renewable energy by 2025. That makes it easy and lucrative for Arizona companies to export renewable energy at high rates to satisfy California regulations and build these facilities under weaker environmental regulations. Nevada and New Mexico also have far weaker renewable energy standards than California. Many people have questioned whether it is logical to import electricity from a state where the power mix is 15% renewable and where lots of coal is being burned, but the imported electricity is classified as 100% renewable.

This also means that California has not reduced GHG emissions within the borders of the state. If the inventory shows a drop of GHG emissions of 6 million tons since 2010 and imported electricity has shown a decrease of 10 million tons, then California clearly has increased emissions within the state’s borders by around 4 million tons since 2010.

Another interesting thing is taking place within California in terms of GHG reductions. Residential heating by natural gas is a major GHG sector making up around 5% of total emissions in the 2015 inventory. This sector has reduced its emissions around 6 million tons since 2010. Ironically, these reductions correspond almost perfectly (r^2 = .97) to the average temperature of California’s coolest months (Oct-Mar). Since 2010 and 2011, which experienced the six coolest months at only slightly warmer than average, California saw those same months in 2014 and 2015 warm up to more than 3 degrees above average and home heating demand dropped significantly because of this warming. Since 2010 there has been a drop of nearly 6 million tons of GHG emissions in California due to less residential heating. In this case global warming is reducing GHG emissions in California far more rapidly than the Cap and Trade program.

GHG and climate

CA ghg residential heating vs mean temp

This also means there has been an increase elsewhere in the state of 6 million tons of GHG emissions. In other words, take out imported electricity reductions and residential heating reductions, and GHG emissions in California from regulated entities have risen by at least 10 million tons since 2010.

Where have these increases taken place? The CARB Integrated Emissions Visualization Tool shows that the bulk of the 10 million ton increase can be traced to environmental justice communities in three locations: Kern, San Bernadino, and Los Angeles Counties.

The following charts show clearly the increases in each of these counties where air pollution is also a major problem.

kern county ghg 2011.2014San Bernadino ghg 2011.2015los angeles ghg 2011.2014

PM10 (or Dust) and the Harvest of Almonds

In the San Joaquin Valley there is dust. It is worst during the months of August and September. These are the months when almonds are harvested.

When PM10 is measured it includes PM2.5. This makes total PM10 readings highest during the winter months of November through February. But, during those months dust is not a problem. It is ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate.

Almond acreage has been growing. In 2000 there were slightly over 500,000 acres of bearing almond orchards. By 2016 this number had grown to nearly 950,000 acres.

PM10 is measured in micrograms per cubic meter. On the AQMIS California Air Resources Board web pages the current and historical levels of PM10 can be found. Historical data is found by changing the year in the small box at the bottom.

What has happened is PM10 average levels for the SJV have gone up and down through the years starting in 2000 and overall there has been a very slight increase in the annual average. An average below 50 micrograms for the year used to be considered healthy by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA has dropped this annual standard in favor of an annual PM2.5 standard. California considers 25 micrograms as a healthy annual standard.

The graph below shows the annual average PM10 levels since 2000 taking the worst reading in the valley for each day.

PM10 annual average

Separating out the almond harvest season, a different situation arises. PM10 levels have risen overall, along with almond acreage, since the year 2000 during the months of August and September.

almond harvest PM10

The other 10 months of the year, when almonds are not being harvested, PM10 has actually decreased slightly since 2000.

PM10 non harvest months

Notice that the annual average and the average for non-almond harvest months varies between 40 and 60 micrograms per cubic meter. But, the almond harvest season has an average between 50 and 90 micrograms.

If you live in the valley and have experienced the choking dust during the almond harvest season, these numbers should come as no surprise.

PM2.5 Kills in Kern

The American Lung Association, in their annual State of the Air report, leaves no doubt that Kern County has the worst Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) pollution levels in the United States. Our PM2.5 levels in the most recent 2016 report were 64% higher than the national health standard. Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Tulare counties were the next four on the list. The worst place outside of California was Shoshone County, Idaho at 8% above the health standard.

PM2.5 is a very localized pollution problem. We make it ourselves. Dust from agriculture, smoke from wood burning, diesel soot from trucks, exhaust from boilers, and nitrates from ammonia and vehicles, make up most of the inventory. The most dangerous levels develop when high atmospheric pressure puts a lid over the valley for several days in a row. This is common during our winter months unless we get rain every week. Rule of thumb: If there is a hint of fog in the air, don’t go outside.

Life expectancy in Kern County is around 4 years less than the state average for both men and women. The corresponding death rate in Kern County is 29% higher than the state average.

In the scientific literature there is a growing body of evidence relating PM2.5 pollution to premature death. The many diseases exacerbated by this type of pollution show why this is true. Kern County is an unfortunate leader in several of these types of diseases.

Kern’s death rate from Coronary Heart Disease is the second worst in the state and 43% above average. In Air particulate matter and cardiovascular disease: the epidemiological, biomedical and clinical evidence, Yixing Du summarized the body of work showing the effects of PM2.5 on cardiovascular health. Numerous studies have shown the direct effects of PM2.5 on the body’s major organs as these particles enter the blood stream.

Also, Kern’s death rate from Respiratory Disease is 60% above the state average. After twenty years of epidemiological studies, scientists have revealed a significant correlation between fine particle pollutants and respiratory disease and death. Great summaries of many of these studies can be found online at the National Center for Biotechnology Information and in publications such as the Journal of Thoracic Disease. A excellent one from 2016 is by Yu-Fei Xing titled The impact of PM2.5 on the human respiratory system.

Death from diabetes also plagues Kern County. In fact, we have the highest death rate in the state from diabetes and are 60% above the state average. Pearson, in a study titled Association Between Fine Particulate Matter and Diabetes Prevalence in the U.S. described how PM2.5 likely makes this disease worse. His findings add to the growing evidence that air pollution is a risk factor for diabetes.

The science of air pollution does not stop with the three big killers mentioned above. Qiao Lee published a study this year on the Effects of Ambient Fine Particles PM2.5 on Human Skin Cells. The study shows how exposure to PM2.5 can lead to worse dermatitis and eczema.

And, have you ever wondered why Kern has an infant mortality rate about 40% above the state average. Woodruff in Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Air Pollution and Selected Causes of Postneonatal Infant Mortality in California demonstrates how this is partly related to our bad air.

Michelle Wilhelm, in 2010, demonstrated in Traffic-related air toxics and preterm birth: a population-based case-control study in Los Angeles how exposure to ammonium nitrate particles, which are more than half of our PM2.5 on bad days, can lead to preterm birth. Kern is 17% above the state average in that category.

Jung CR revealed recently a probable relation between Alzheimer’s Disease and PM2.5. That study is called Ozone, particulate matter, and newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.  Not to scare anyone, but Kern is 45% above the state average in Alzheimer rates.

To round things out, Fibrosis of the liver was linked to PM2.5 in 2015 by Zheng X in Exposure to fine airborne particulate matters induces hepatic fibrosis in murine models.

Studies are also coming that demonstrate how ultra-fine particles in our air can invade the body’s cells and cause genetic damage which is then passed on to offspring.

In conclusion, a wealth of scientific evidence over the past twenty years demonstrate the dangers of PM2.5 and its effects on disease and premature death. The health benefits of clearing our air and meeting the national health standards are significant and far exceed the cost of the cleanup.


HR806 Gutting the Clean Air Act

Congress is Trying to Gut the Clean Air Act

HR 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, is the brain child of our San Joaquin Valley Air Board and it is being sponsored in Congress by Valley legislators Jim Costa, David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy.

March 22 was our Air Board’s time in the limelight in Washington DC. After two years of failing to get similar legislation passed under Obama, pious and indignant Board Members and Supervisors Steve Worthley, Bob Elliot, Buddy Mendes, Craig Pedersen, and City Councilman Oliver Baines, all resolutely represented their constituents, the biggest polluters in the Valley, at the nation’s capital. The air district chief, Seyed Sadredin herded them to the hearing room where the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Economy listened to their whining.

HR 806 is subtitled, “To facilitate efficient State implementation of ground-level ozone standards, and for other purposes.” It is the “other purposes” which will gut the Clean Air Act and hurt the residents of the San Joaquin Valley.

HR 806 has been written to delay the attainment dates of all new air quality health standards and take away any penalties for failure to reach those standards on time. It is a double whammy for those Valley residents who are sensitive to air pollution (virtually everyone).

During the hearing Seyed testified falsely about the 52 billion dollars it will take to clean up the Valley’s air and how even that amount won’t quite get us there. He seemed to be unaware that it is a federal crime to lie to Congress. Can’t blame him though with the example Trump has set. Seyed cried wolf about the devastating consequences of sanctions that will be imposed on Valley businesses when they fail to attain the standards on time. He lamented the fact that our low-income residents, already suffering from high unemployment, would be hurt greatly by these sanctions.

The sanest voice on the Energy Committee, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. of Riverside and the Coachella Valley, told Seyed he had things ass-backwards. Ruiz stated eloquently that it is not for the working families and the poor, who face the highest burden of illnesses due to poor air quality, that we should weaken these regulations and protections. He said it is actually counter-intuitive to help the CEO’s of these big companies maintain their profits instead of protecting the health of minimum wage workers.

Fortunately, Kurt Kaperos, of the California Air Resources Board, was able to talk some sanity back into the room. His testimony, below in quotes, was elegant and to the point.

“First, meeting health-based, health-protective standards for air quality is achievable.

Second, economic growth and development while cleaning the air is not only possible, in California it is a reality.

And, third, weakening the Clean Air Act, as H.R. 806 would do, is unnecessary and will harm the health and well-being of millions of people.

With its science-based, health-protective air quality standards, its meaningful deadlines, and its requirements for comprehensive plans, the Clean Air Act has been California’s tool for achieving air quality and economic success. The Clean Air Act requires comprehensive planning. H.R. 806 would delay planning and increase costs in the long term.

California’s success is proof that H.R. 806 is unnecessary. It would inappropriately insert control costs into EPA’s science-based process for setting air quality standards. How healthful the air is to breathe is not determined by the cost to clean it up. It is a question of science and what air pollution does to the human body.

H.R. 806 would mean more people would breathe dirty air longer. It would unwisely mandate that we ignore the pollution impacts of weather conditions made worse by man-made climate change. It would push off deadlines, erode requirements for incremental progress, and undermine the Clean Air Act’s requirements for comprehensive air quality strategies.

In closing, let me stress that meeting health-protective standards is both achievable and cost-effective. The Clean Air Act provides the flexibility to do this.

Setting healthful air against economic prosperity is a false choice. California continues to show that clean air and economic growth go hand-in-hand.

And, finally, delaying the standards will harm the health and well-being of millions of people in this country. The San Joaquin Valley, in particular, is home to high rates of poverty, pollution, and asthma. It is especially critical to continue progress in that region.

And in the end, the economic costs and the human cost of polluted air far exceed the costs of cleanup.”


SB 350 A Few Thoughts

We desperately need SB 350. Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels 50% by 2030 for both electrical generation and for transportation is essential for buffering the coming impacts of climate change and global warming.

California is the world’s eighth largest economy. The naysayers who claim it won’t do any good for California to set these goals when the rest of the world does not are wrong. The rest of the world is coming along nicely and California is actually in danger of falling behind.

In this graph put out by the California State Senate is the current situation.

sb 350 goal and graph

The red line in the center is the most important indicator of whether humans will continue to rule over creation for a few more centuries That red line must plummet off the bottom of the graph over the next fifteen years if SB 350 is passed and the mandate is fulfilled.

Passing the mandate is the current struggle. Fulfillment of the mandate is the ultimate struggle.

The yellow and red lines have been falling since the 1970’s. Basically, fossil fuel was never so cheap that we could afford to grow our economy over the past 50 years without becoming more energy efficient.

Do not be distracted by impressive drops in the carbon intensity of the economy indicated by the yellow line. The only line that counts is the red one and it needs to start falling rapidly very soon. AB 32 rules began implementation in 2010. SB 350 regulations will not begin for three or four more years. It is unfortunate that we may not see significant drops in that red line until after 2020.