Chevron spills 800,000 gal­lons of oil, wa­ter in Cal­i­for­nia

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY DON THOMPSON

Of­fi­cials be­gan to clean up a mas­sive oil spill Fri­day that dumped nearly 800,000 gal­lons of oil and wa­ter into a Cal­i­for­nia canyon, mak­ing it larger — if less dev­as­tat­ing — than the state’s last two ma­jor oil spills.

The newly re­vealed spill has been flow­ing off and on since May and has again stopped, Chevron spokes­woman Veron­ica FloresPa­ni­agua said. She and Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials said the spill is not near any wa­ter­way and has not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected wildlife. The last flow was Tues­day.

Chevron re­ported that 794,000 gal­lons (about 3 mil­lion liters) of oil and wa­ter have leaked out of the ground where it uses steam in­jec­tion to ex­tract oil in the large Cym­ric Oil Field about 35 miles (56 kilo­me­ters) west of Bak­ers­field. The steam soft­ens the thick crude so it can flow more read­ily and is a dif­fer­ent process from frack­ing, which breaks up un­der­ground lay­ers of rock.

The state has is­sued Chevron a no­tice of vi­o­la­tion or­der­ing it to stop steam in­jec­tions around the spill. The com­pany also in­creased its pro­duc­tion of oil from wells in the area. Both ac­tions are in­tended to re­lieve un­der­ground pres­sure that may be forc­ing the mix of oil and wa­ter to the sur­face.

Chevron will pay for the cleanup, though the state will over­see the process, said Steve Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife’s Of­fice of Spill Preven­tion and Re­sponse.

The cleanup and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what caused the oil flow were some­what de­layed as of­fi­cials en­sured there are no dan­ger­ous fumes or sink­holes that could trap work­ers or heavy equip­ment, he said.

“At this point, they have it dammed off and they’re suck­ing it out, suck­ing the oil out,” Gonzalez said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups said the Chevron spill is an­other sign of weak­ened reg­u­la­tions un­der an em­bat­tled Cal­i­for­nia agency. Gov. Gavin New­som this week fired the head of the state’s oil and gas di­vi­sion over a re­cent in­crease in hy­draulic frac­tur­ing per­mits and amid a con­flictof-in­ter­est in­ves­ti­ga­tion of other di­vi­sion em­ploy­ees.

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.

“Cal­i­for­nia’s in­dus­tryfriendl­y oil reg­u­la­tor con­tin­ues to pro­vide about as much pro­tec­tion as a screen door on a sub­ma­rine,” Hollin Kret­z­mann, a se­nior at­tor­ney at the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity and mem­ber of the Last Chance Al­liance, said in a state­ment.

Nei­ther Chevron nor di­vi­sion spokesman Don Drys­dale com­mented on the crit­i­cism.

About 70% of the fluid is wa­ter, Chevron said, mean­ing about 240,000 gal­lons is oil.

The spill, first re­ported by KQED News, comes after a judge ear­lier this year fined Plains All Amer­i­can Pipe­line nearly $3.35 mil­lion for what had been the worst Cal­i­for­nia coastal spill in 25 years.

AP

In this May 10 photo pro­vided by the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife’s Of­fice of Spill Preven­tion and Re­sponse, oil flows at a Chevron oil field in Kern County, Calif. Nearly 800,000 gal­lons of oil and wa­ter has seeped from the ground since May.

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