Chevron Ordered to Halt Oil Spill in Kern County
SAN FRANCISCO — 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 west of Bakersfield. This week Chevron said no new fluid had come to the surface since Tuesday and that 90 percent of the released material has been recovered.
Chevron: Wildlife not Affected
The company also said the spill is not near any waterway and has not significantly affected wildlife.
KQED reports regulators took a further step Friday 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.
Governor Fires Top Official
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.
Environmental groups said the Chevron spill is another sign of weakened regulations under an embattled California agency. The Last Chance Alliance, which opposes California’s oil and gas industry, said the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources adopted weaker restrictions on steam injection earlier this year, “making these operations even more dangerous.”
The group said state regulators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year approved an exemption that removed protections from an aquifer in the Cymric Oil Field at the request of Chevron and other oil companies.
History of California Oil Spills
The spill comes after a judge earlier this year fined Plains All American Pipeline nearly $3.35 million for causing what had been the worst California coastal spill in 25 years.
A corroded pipeline spilled 140,000 gallons of crude oil in 2015 onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, tarring popular beaches for miles, killing wildlife, and harming tourism and fishing.
In 2007, the container ship Cosco Busan leaked nearly 54,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into San Francisco Bay after the ship hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in thick fog.
The state’s worst spill was the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that leaked at least 80,000 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel. Each barrel is 42 gallons.