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Climate & Environment

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

In Kern County
An oil drilling operation in Kern County.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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On Thursday, Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a news release accusing Chevron of failing to inform the public about the leak.

“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.

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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.

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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.


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