Newsom 'Sees Progress' in Visit to Chevron Oil Spill Site, Emphasizes Need for Accountability

Gov. Gavin Newsom is briefed by Billy Lacobie, of Chevron (center) and Jason Marshall (right) of the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) on July 24, 2019, while touring an oil field near Bakersfield.  (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Pool)

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he is encouraged by Chevron's efforts to clean up what has turned into California's largest oil spill in decades.

At least 974,400 gallons of fluid have leaked from the ground at an oil field in Kern County, near the town of McKittrick about 35 miles west of Bakersfield, over the last couple of months. About one-third is oil and the other two-thirds water.

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"I'm seeing progress," Newsom said on a visit to the Cymric oil field, where the oil and water are contained in a dry desert creekbed. The leaks are known as surface expressions, which can be caused by injecting steam into the ground.

Chevron uses steam injection to extract oil in the Cymric field. The steam softens the thick crude so it can flow more readily. It is a different process from fracking, which breaks up underground layers of rock.

Still, Newsom told reporters the state would ask Chevron to turn over data so regulators can investigate the cause of the spill.

"The lesson learned here is we've got to be aggressive on monitoring," Newsom said.

"We've got to hold folks to account. And I think Chevron ... are being forthright and recognizing they need to be held to account. They need to mitigate. They need to clean this thing up. They are taking it seriously, at least based upon my interactions. But we'll analyze that and we're going to request their data. We're not just going to assume things."

The company has said the initial leak began May 10 after its crews tried to seal off a damaged and abandoned well.

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The company said efforts to confirm the source of the original leak and shut it down unleashed higher flows in the weeks after the initial release was discovered. The company also increased its production of oil from wells in the area. Both actions are intended to relieve underground pressure that may be forcing the mix of oil and water to the surface.

In May, the state issued Chevron a notice of violation, ordering it to stop steam injections around the spill. Then on July 12, state regulators ordered the company "to take all measures" to stop the flow and prevent a recurrence, saying Chevron had not yet done enough to stop the releases.

The latest seepage was noticed July 17.

The spill is the largest in California since 1990, when a tanker spilled more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach.

Officials said the latest spill is not affecting waterways.

This post includes reporting by Andrew Oxford of The Associated Press.

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