California regulators have issued a notice of violation against Chevron and ordered a limited ban on nearby production after a steaming operation in the Cymric Oil Field produced a pool of oil 250 feet long and 20 feet wide near McKittrick.
The state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said Friday the "surface expression" has brought a total of 13,515 barrels of oil and water, or 567,630 gallons, to the surface during at least three episodes between May 10 and June 23.
No injuries have been reported and the state said the spill presents no risk to the public. DOGGR said in a statement the area is remote and the underlying groundwater has no beneficial use. The spill was reported to be 3½ miles from McKittrick.
Noisemakers are being used to keep birds and wildlife away from the spill, the agency said. It said 20 steam-injection wells in the area have been shut down and nine idle production wells have been activated in an attempt to reduce pressure that has pushed the oil to the surface.
DOGGR has ordered Chevron to cease all steam injection work within 600 feet of the well. The company ended up halting such activity within a 1,000-foot radius, but the spilling continued.
Chevron said by email Friday that oil is no longer leaking at the site and the spill has been contained but that it has not yet pinpointed the source of the oil.
The company said it discovered June 8 that a seep it first noticed a month earlier had reactivated. On both occasions, Chevron said, it alerted the appropriate regulatory agencies and that it continues working with them to determine the source.
"Chevron is using pumps to remotely extract fluids from the containment area until regulatory agencies deem the area safe for entry and full cleanup," Chevron stated. "There has been no impact to waterways or wildlife."
Surface expressions are prohibited under state regulations but they have occasionally happened in Kern County. Past instances have resulted from a process called cyclic steaming, in which steam is injected at high pressure at shallow depths.
Spills happen when this pressure accidentally spreads beyond intended targets, causing oil, water, steam and sometimes rocks to shoot from the ground. Similar but smaller examples of this were a big problem for Chevron about 10 years ago in the Midway-Sunset field near Taft.
DOGGR has worked to address surface expressions through regulatory changes in recent years. This is the first report of a large one in several years.