California's top oil regulator, losing patience with Chevron's response to the uncontrolled release of thousands of barrels of oil near McKittrick, has ordered the company to "take all measures" to make sure petroleum, water and steam do not resume rising to the surface after previous efforts to stop the flow there proved temporary.
Asserting Chevron USA Inc. "has not yet done everything that is necessary to prevent future occurrences," Friday's order by new Acting State Oil and Gas Supervisor Jason Marshall instructs the company to turn over data and analysis relating to so-called "surface expressions" of oil and water that have left more than 567,000 gallons of black fluid on the ground in a series of at least three releases dating to May at the Cymric Oil Field.
A spokesman for Marshall's agency, the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said oil was still flowing to the surface at the time the order was drafted but that it has since halted. He added that the leak "has stopped and restarted twice previously."
"The intention is to make sure it does not reactivate again," spokesman Don Drysdale said by email Monday.
Chevron said in an email Monday it takes such matters seriously, adding, "We will review the order and continue working in a collaborative manner with the involved agencies."
The company declined to address a question about what it thinks is the cause of the surface expressions, which are not permitted in California but which have been a regulatory problem for Chevron as recently as 2011.
DOGGR issued a notice of violation against Chevron May 20 after the company reported a "new high energy surface expression." The agency ordered the company to perform a root-cause analysis of the leak within 30 days.
Chevron provided the analysis but a DOGGR representative said Monday the agency does not believe the document adequately explains the cause.
In addition to that analysis, the agency told Chevron in May to prepare a monitoring and prevention plan for review by the division no later than Nov. 20. The plan was to include a surveillance system or a pressure and flow monitoring system "that will give adequate warning to prevent surface expressions."
DOGGR also ordered the company to map the leak, "including cracks, fissures and sink holes related to underground injection work," as well as plans for restricting access to the area and training for people working in the area.
Another notice of violation, issued against Chevron by DOGGR on June 13, noted a separate surface expression June 8 in the same general area. The terms of the second violation mirrored those of the first.
That second notice was amended July 1 after Chevron reported an additional leak there June 23. It noted the agency determined the events "do not meet all of the requirements of a 'low-energy seep'" and therefore constitute a violation of state rules against underground injection projects resulting in surface expressions. It ordered the company to cease steam injections within 600 feet of the two earlier leaks.
DOGGR provided a summary Friday stating no injuries have been reported in the area and the public was not placed at risk. It said the area's underlying groundwater has no beneficial use and that noisemakers were being used to keep birds and wildlife away.
The summary said Chevron had stopped steam injection within 1,000 feet of the area but that the flow of oil and water continued. About 20 injection wells have been shut down, DOGGR said, while nine idle production wells have been reactivated in order to reduce underground pressure.
Steam is used in the Cymric field to heat oil in the area as part of the production process, the agency said. It added that oil, water and steam were surfacing from three vents at the site, and that as a result, a pool of oil and water was created measuring 250 feet by 20 feet.
Surface expressions are generally caused when high-pressure steam used to warm an oil reservoir escapes beyond its intended pathways. This allows the steam to rise to the surface along with oil and water.
Here is a link to Friday's order: https://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Documents/Orders/1159.pdf