2019025-bc-oil

Crew works on seepage of about 900,000 gallons of oil and brine water oil from an abandoned well in Chevron Corp's Cymric Oil Field that has transformed a dry creek bed into a black lagoon.

State oil regulators turned up the heat on Chevron Tuesday, ordering the company to provide still more information about eight recent or ongoing uncontrolled releases of oily fluid in the Cymric Oil Field outside McKittrick.

The demand letter from California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources says material the company has turned over to date "does not demonstrate to DOGGR's satisfaction" that San Ramon-based Chevron has done everything possible to mitigate and prevent the releases, known in the industry as "surface expressions."

Originating in the agency's Bakersfield office, the order requires Chevron to produce a substantial amount of data on its work in the Cymric, where the company operates about 350 active cyclic steam wells. Such wells are distinct from other oilfield technologies in that they alternate between high-pressure steam injection and oil production.

Among the information Chevron was told to provide within 30 days are digitally formatted data in support of all existing and planned cyclic steam operations "as necessary to wholly demonstrate to DOGGR's satisfaction that injected fluid will be confined to the approved injection zone." The state also requested production and injection records, as well as maps and reservoir cross-section diagrams.

Additional information from Chevron is due to the state by Dec. 13, including a surface-expression monitoring and prevention plan that maps out cracks, fissures and sink holes related to the company's work in the area, plus five years' worth of well pressure data.

The order escalates the state's conflict with Chevron over the fluid releases. It follows five notices of violation against Chevron relating to surface expressions that have brought more than 30,000 barrels of oil and water (1.26 million gallons) up from the ground since May 10.

State officials have said the releases have not harmed the environment in any way. Even so, the letter from local District Deputy Cameron Campbell, written on behalf of Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor Jason Marshall, notes the surface expressions violate state rules that took effect April 1.

Chevron has already given some data to DOGGR in addition to four analyses of what the company contends was the cause of the releases. Nevertheless, according to the state, surface expressions related to Chevron's operations in the oil field continue.

A DOGGR spokesman said by email Tuesday that materials provided recently by Chevron addressed conditions relating to individual wells "but do not explain the larger, ongoing issue of recurring incidents in this field."

The company said by email its goal is to prevent the releases, consistent with state rules, and that it is working closely with regulators to address surface expressions, which it termed seeps.

"Chevron continues to work with the regulatory authorities to determine how to address and mitigate these seeps," it wrote. "Chevron has provided and continues to provide DOGGR with the broad scope of historical and current technical information DOGGR requested in its September 10, 2019 letter, along with DOGGR’s previous related data requests."

"We will continue to diligently work with DOGGR," the company continued, "to provide additional information and data based on the schedule that we have previously agreed to with DOGGR, or as otherwise required. We have a dedicated team working to develop a holistic approach to prevent and manage seeps across our Cymric thermal diatomite operations.

"The seeps in Cymric field are fully contained," it added. "The seeps do not pose a threat to drinking water, and appropriate actions have been taken to protect the health and safety of our personnel, communities, and the environment."

Last month DOGGR took the rare step of placing the entire oil field under technical scrutiny. The agency also called for scientists at the prestigious Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories in the Bay Area to help with its analysis.

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