Calif.’s oil wind-down rankles neighboring farmers

The push to reduce oil production is resulting in a shutdown that’s leaving neighbors, including farmers, with a mess on their hands.

A small Bakersfield-based organic farmer is calling on an oil company to clean up crude oil on his farm that is still there months after the company removed an idle well. 

While the state got involved through the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), the fines that have been issued to operator Sequoia Exploration have not resulted in a cleanup of the entire property. 


The big picture: Farmer Larry Salada told The Sun that Sequoia Exploration removed an idle well that was situated on his 2.5-acre farm, where he grows organic fruits and nuts. 

  • Removing the well ended up creating a mess as the high winds that day spread crude oil over his property and his three neighbors, covering buildings, cars, trees and animals, including his miniature goats. 
  • Saldana, who was traveling at the time, returned to the farm in early March when the company was still removing the well and again weeks later to discover oil throughout his property. 
  • During that time, Saldana said heavy rains moved crude oil into the ground and damaged his trees. 
  • Saldana contacted Sequoia Exploration about the mess, yet the company did not immediately move to clean up his property. He claims the company initially admitted that the well should not have been removed during the windy conditions, yet later walked back its culpability. 
  • He called the county out to the property, which issued a violation to Sequoia Exploration. He also filed a report with CalGEM on April 24, which did not come out to the site until July 7 to confirm the damages and issue two violations to Sequoia Exploration. 
  • CalGEM was also on site on Wednesday and reported that the well is still leaking gas, which Saladana says have caused headaches for the past five months. 
  • Saldana said Sequoia Exploration has only made an effort to clean up part of his property, albeit in a poor way. The company shoveled dirt over the crude oil that was pooled up around the site where the well was instead of removing the oil completely. 

State of play: Sequoia Exploration offered Saldana $2,000 in damages, an amount he estimates to be far short of fair. 

  • With his entire 2.5 acres affected, Saladana said the total damages are likely over $1 million at this point, yet if the company cleaned up the oil immediately he thinks the damages would have only been $25,000 to $50,000. 

What they’re saying: “There’s pretty much no way that [Sequoia] would not have noticed it,” Saldana said of the initial incident. “It would’ve been on their uniforms. It was on the ground all around them, and it was on the buildings just feet away from where they were working. It was very very obvious that it was there.” 

  • Saldana is calling on Sequoia Exploration to clean up the oil throughout his property and the neighboring farms, which is still present five months later. 
  • “Every single day that I am out there I touch a water hose, I touch a fence, I open a gate – whatever it may be – I get that crude oil on my fingers, and it’s absorbed into my body,” Saldana said. “Every single day that I’m out there. Again, they don’t care to do anything, and it’s just a horrible industry that’s allowed to run free without any repercussions.” 
  • As a small farmer, Saldana says he does not have the financial ability to take legal action against Sequoia Exploration. 
  • “It’s pretty sad how a company’s allowed to pour toxic waste on people’s land, spray it over their orchards, their houses and animals, and there’s pretty close to nothing that we can do,” Saldana said.
Related Posts