Cymric Oil Field, July 2019
Earliest public photo of leak on May 10, 2019 or a few days later.
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.
Well stimulation activity near oil leak (fracking, acidizing, etc.?)
Hazardous waste (contaminated soil) being landfilled nearby leak.
July 18, 2019 Oil Well just above leak along gully being worked on. Perhaps being sealed?
July 18, circular sinking of surface beside leak in gully. Red netting around depression.
LA Times Story
After 800,000-gallon spill, Chevron site is still leaking oil
By PIPER MCDANIEL JULY 18, 2019
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.
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.
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 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 from oil leak to nearest farm is 3.5 miles and almost directly down stream.
1200 ft radius from oil leak where oil well activity is shut down.
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.