A pair of oil leaks that opened up last weekend near McKittrick are the latest indications of the challenges facing Chevron as it works to come into compliance with recent state rules prohibiting uncontrolled releases of crude and water known as surface expressions.
One day after the company announced it had finished cleaning up a months-long, nearly 1.4 million-gallon leak in the Cymric Oil field, a small leak appeared Saturday not far away. A second, larger one about 340 feet away became evident the next day.
State records show the leak that began Sunday, initially described as "very active, with high energy steam and fluid," released nearly 2,000 barrels of oily fluid, including 232 barrels (9,744 gallons) of crude.
The fluid flowed into a dry stream bed, where damming was put into place and a contractor was hired to remove it, according to a state report. It added that the cause of the release was under investigation.
Surface expressions like this have occurred repeatedly in the history of Kern oil production but have been banned in California since April 1.
Chevron asserted in an email Thursday that last weekend's "seeps" may be related to its ongoing efforts to fix a surface expression about 3,200 feet away that has continued since 2003.
"This continues to alter the distribution of energy in the reservoir and may lead to reactivations or new flow locations in the near term, such as the (Saturday) and (Sunday) events," Chevron spokeswoman Patricia “Patty” Canessa wrote.
She said the company is reducing the amount of steam being injected into the reservoir and "balancing" fluid withdrawal. She noted that both releases are contained and cleanup is underway.
State regulators, dissatisfied with the company's explanations of what has caused recent surface expressions in the Cymric, have placed the entire oil field under technical scrutiny and ordered Chevron to come up with a plan to keep releases from recurring there.
Detailed information from Chevron is due to the state by Dec. 13, including a surface-expression monitoring and prevention plan. As part of that, the company was asked to map out cracks, fissures and sink holes related to the company's work in the area, plus five years' worth of well pressure data.
Chevron has filed an appeal to a $2.7 million fine the state levied against the company as punishment for the months-long surface expression that started in mid-May.