Bakersfield · Business

Chevron fined $2.7mil for Kern Co. oil seep

California’s oil regulator announced $2.7 million in fines levied against Chevron centered on a longstanding oil seep near McKittrick.

The leak, which was traced back to at least May, occurred in the Cymric Oil Field in Kern County. Wednesday’s fine was the second-largest issued by the enforcement arm of California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

In analyzing the leak, DOGGR points to the likely culprit as Chevron’s cyclic steam operations.

Of the leaked oil, DOGGR estimated the company would be able to sell 7,219 barrels at a value of nearly $400,000.

“Chevron takes very seriously its responsibility to operate safely and in a manner that is protective of public health, the communities where we operate and the environment,” Chevron said in a statement following the penalty announcement.

“We have made significant progress working with Unified Command to clean up the impacted area, which is nearly complete. It remains our operational goal to prevent seeps consistent with DOGGR’s updated regulations, and we continue to work closely with regulators to address any seeps that occur.”

Despite an initial assessment that the spill had little-to-no environmental damage, the state agency later found that a Lesser Nighthawk was found oiled in August and was eventually euthanized.

DOGGR’s penalty was broken up into two different violations. The first, totalling $900,000, was for failing to prevent a surface expression of oil. The department’s citation notes that steam and high volumes of oil came to the surface for periods of more than three minutes, indicating that the surface expressions were not “low-energy seeps.”

The second penalty, totalling the remaining $1.8 million was for failing to comply with transport requirements for oil by using un-lined channels to funnel seeped oil for processing.

Handling Chevron’s spill has been fraught with political maneuvering for Gov. Gavin Newsom. Environmental advocates argued his administration had not taken a tough enough stand against the company.

In July, Newsom sacked DOGGR’s director, Ken Harris following reports of increased issuance of hydraulic fracturing permits from his department.

Chevron is eligible to appeal the penalty. The company has not yet indicated if it will undertake an appeal.

Read the civil penalty

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.