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

BY JOHN COX jcox@bakersfield.com


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.




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