Chevron oil leak discovered in California

In California, there have been two significant events in the past several days related to the state’s oil and gas industry.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the state’s top oil regulator after learning that fracking permits had doubled without his knowledge since he became governor. He took the action after also learning that some of the supervisors tasked with regulating the industry owned shares in major oil companies.

Then came word that a Chevron oil well in California’s Kern County had leaked nearly 800,000 gallons of crude oil and water into a dry creek bed. The incident occurred about 35 miles west of Bakersfield over the past two months.

The California Department of Conservation reported the mixture was about one-third oil and two-thirds water and the flow had stopped. Reports indicated the seep happened in an oil field where Chevron used a process called steam injection to extract underground crude oil.

Ted Goldberg, an editor at KQED News who often reports on Bay Area refineries, uncovered the spill while searching a government database for updates on an entirely separate incident at Chevron’s Richmond refinery in Northern California. “In May, Chevron officials began noticing that oil and water started coming up from the ground when it shouldn’t,” Goldberg explained. “It lasted for a little while and then it stopped. And then on two other occasions since then, it started [again]. The agency that’s responsible for regulating this stuff has been criticized, basically, for doing not an aggressive job in general.”

“Chevron and the state agency that regulates oil and gas and the state water regulators have all emphasized that there’s no drinking water supplies in the area, that there’s no harm to wildlife,” Goldberg said. “And as you can probably expect, environmentalists disagree with that.”

Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group, said the damage potentially caused by the spill “still remains to be seen.” Kretzmann characterized the spill as a larger failure of government regulation, calling it “the end result of regulations that are completely inadequate to prevent these accidents from happening and protect the public and the environment.”

“We can’t be a leader in climate change and protecting the environment if we’re one of the biggest oil and gas producers in the country,” Kretzmann said, touching on the two competing visions of California at play.